A collaboration between the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examined selected demographic characteristics and outcomes of methamphetamine users in both the general population and the criminal justice system. The aim was to determine whether methamphetamine users, compared with other drug users and non-users, experienced worse outcomes and whether these outcomes were observed across different methamphetamine user groups. Data from four distinct datasets: The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), the Drug Use Monitoring In Australia program (DUMA), the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) and the National Prisoner Health Data Collection (NPHDC) were examined.  The findings are reported in the May 2017 edition of the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Statistical bulletin 3: Australian methamphetamine user outcomes.

Significant concern about the costs of serious and organised crime related illicit drug activity estimated to be around $4.4b in 2013–14 together with the personal and societal impacts of increasing methamphetamine use in Australia sparked the research. Approximately one in thirty people aged over 14 reported use of methamphetamines in 2005. Since that time, there has been an increase in the use of crystal methamphetamine (ice) as the preferred form of the drug.

Between 2007 and 2013, the proportion of methamphetamine users who most often used ice increased from just over a quarter to half. The total number of methamphetamine users has also risen in recent years. As the number of methamphetamine users increase, especially ice, it is expected that the impacts of methamphetamine use will escalate. The impact of methamphetamine use on the healthcare system is significant and includes ambulance costs, emergency department presentations, hospital admissions, mental health treatment and treatment and counselling for drug use. Between 2011–12 and 2012–13, ambulance attendance for incidents related to ice use increased by 88 percent in metropolitan Melbourne and by almost 200 percent in regional Victoria. It is reported that ambulance attendance for methamphetamine use is becoming more resource-intensive, involving multiple stakeholders.

In terms of the demographics of users, each of the data sources revealed that methamphetamine users were younger than other drug users and in the general population sample those who used ice were younger than those who used other methamphetamines. Ice is now the most commonly available form of methamphetamine in Australia. Methamphetamine and ice users were more likely to be men and were also more likely to be born in Australia and speak English as their main language at home.

Using 2012 police detainee data, 33 percent of crime could be attributed to methamphetamine use in that one in three indicated methamphetamine use had contributed to the offences for which they were being detained by police.  From 2012 to 2015 there was a 13 percent increase in methamphetamine use by prison entrants, up from 37 percent to 50 percent.

Methamphetamine users had less positive educational outcomes. Those in both the police detainee sample and the prison entrant sample had completed a lower level of schooling than others. In the general community, ice users were less likely than those who used other forms of methamphetamine to hold post-school qualifications. Prison entrants were the exception to this.  Those who used methamphetamines were more likely than others to hold a trade certificate. This may be related to their more extensive prison histories and vocational education and training opportunities whilst incarcerated.

In the general population, ice users were more likely to be unemployed and looking for work. This suggests that the adverse impact illicit drug use has on gaining or maintaining employment is exacerbated by ice use. With the use of ice increasing, current loss of productivity due to methamphetamine use could be expected to exceed that previously observed when the most common form was powder.

Ice users in the general population sample, which was taken from a household survey, were more likely to be single with no children and less likely to live in socioeconomically advantaged areas than other methamphetamine users. In the other sample groups, homelessness was more common among methamphetamine users than others.  In both the police detainee and prison entrant samples, it was more common for methamphetamine users to have recently slept rough or in makeshift housing than it was for those using other drugs or not using drugs.

The mental and physical health of methamphetamine users, in particular ice users, was generally poorer than that of those who used other illicit drugs or who did not use drugs. The health outcomes of those who used methamphetamines were also worse. Methamphetamine users were more distressed, rated their mental health as worse, and were more likely to have histories of self-harm and head injuries leading to a loss of consciousness than those who used other types of illicit drugs or who did not use any drugs. Among methamphetamine users in the general community, ice was associated with greater distress and a recent diagnosis of or treatment for mental illness.

Injecting and smoking ice are both associated with more frequent use, greater demand for treatment, more risky behaviour and other health and psychiatric consequences. Data demonstrates that outcomes for methamphetamine users are less positive than those experienced by other drug users. This suggests that the impact on the Australian community in terms of lost productivity, health care and drug-attributable crime arising from methamphetamine use, most notably ice, is higher than that arising from the use of other illicit drugs.

Across all data sources, methamphetamine users reported worse employment, education, housing and health outcomes than those who used other illicit drugs and those who did not use drugs. In the general population, this effect was more pronounced for ice users than for users of other forms of methamphetamines.

View the bulletin here.