Australia is said to be facing an ice epidemic, and as former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott emphatically declared early this year, it is the worst drug problem the nation has had to deal with.
What makes ice—the name the stimulant drug crystal methamphetamine is known by in Australia—raise such alarm bells? Why is this drug getting that kind of attention from government and the media? What is it with ice addiction that makes it such a worrisome issue not only in Australia but in many other countries as well?
Here are 12 worrisome facts that you must know about ice addiction, some of them you probably haven’t heard about before.
1. Is ice addictive? Absolutely
Now before you say that all illicit drugs are addictive, let us compare nicotine and heroin—two of the most addictive substances on Earth—to ice. Heroin and nicotine work by “teaching” your brain to crave a drug, and they both do the job exemplarily by imitating a natural neurotransmitter directly. Ice, however, does one better, or in this case, worse: it mimicks dopamine and norepinephrine, the former being a “reward” chemical and the latter an “alertness” one.
Why is this worse as far as the ice user is concerned? That’s because such mimickry causes the user’s neurons to release more of both, and the user’s brain gets “trained” to want them even more. Ice is also known to do some damage to neurons that release these chemicals. Naturally, the production of these chemicals dip dramatically, and that triggers craving for more ice. To say that ice is one of the toughest drugs to kick would be an absolute understatement.
2. Ice addict figures reach millions worldwide
According to an estimate by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are 24.7 million people who are hooked on methamphetamine worldwide.
3. The adverse effects of ice addiction are manifold
Ice is, without a doubt, one of the most destructive drugs in existence. In the short term, ice users are likely to experience increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and body temperature, disturbed sleep patterns, hallucinations, nausea, headaches, dilation of pupils and extreme weight loss. If they continue their ice habit for years, then they are likely to suffer permanent damage to the blood vessels of the heart and brain, high blood pressure leading to heart attacks and strokes, liver, kidney and lung damage, and death.
4. Ice addiction symptoms include rage and violence
The abuse of illicit drugs, by nature, brings with it a host of complications and long-term adverse effects on one’s health. Ice addiction, however, one-ups heroin and company in this regard. It is known to trigger self-destructive behaviour, rage and violence among its users. And no one would certainly want those effects to manifest, because according to paramedics, as an ice addict on a drug-fuelled rage can be superhumanly strong. Numerous crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder have also been attributed to ice addiction.
5. Ice drug addiction takes a heavy toll on one’s looks
In the 1990s, there was this anti-smoking campaign by the government of the Philippines that directly appealed to the vanity of smokers, telling them how smoking ruins their looks, among other unsavoury things. Then came Faces of Meth, a drug prevention project run by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in the U.S. state of Oregon. Its premise is simple: post mug shots of ice addicts—repeat offenders all—on its website. All one has to do is take a look at those images to see the damage ice can inflict on his or her looks. Many of the ice addicts shown on the website have dull skin, faces wracked by hard-to-heal sores and pimples and stained, broken, or rotting teeth.
6. Ice addicts include children
Sure, we’ve heard of children who started starting drinking or smoking at a young age, but using ice? Sadly, it’s true, at least according to a Sydney Morning Herald Report. The article tells of children as young as 12 getting hooked on ice, and that’s an image that is not easy to get out of your head once you read about it.
7. Addiction to ice could lead to HIV/AIDS
Ice has always been associated with sex, as users attest to heightened arousal and increased sexual stamina when on the drug. The problem with ice is that it also lower inhibitions, and that often leads to practising unsafe sex. As ice addicts tend to not care about using condoms or any sort of protection while engaging in sex, their risk of contracting HIV and other STIs is so much higher.
Aside from unsafe sex, ice users who inject or “shoot up” the drug into their veins can also contract many diseases—including hepatitis—if the needles they use are being shared by other ice users.
8. Ice addiction is driven by easy-to-make ice
To produce cocaine, one would need coca leaves. Heroin, on the other hand, is a natural product of the opium poppy. Ice, on the other hand, does not need any hard-to-acquire plant base. All it requires are a bunch of chemicals that include acetone, lithium, toluene, hydrochloric acid, pseudoephedrine, red phosphorous, sodium hydroxide, sulphuric acid, and the expertise to synthesize them. It’s not unheard of for enterprising drug dealers to make their own ice in a backyard lab, all aspiring to become real-life Heisenbergs. In most cases, however, the quality and safety of DIY ice leave so much to be desired. Unless they’re as brilliant in chemistry as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, the ice they’re producing could prove to be even deadlier than usual.
Of course, making your own ice also happens to be an incredibly dangerous proposition, since most of the chemicals needed for it are toxic, flammable and yes, explosive. Ice may be relatively easier to make, but it’s not that easy to make.
9. The ice drug is being produced in Mexico on an industrial scale
The profitability of the Sinaloa cartel has soared, thanks to its fairly recent focus on the production and export of ice. To keep up with its production quotas, the cartel relies on its “super labs”, where ice is produced on a scale that would keep legions of ice users worldwide high and satisfied.
10. Mexican drug cartels eyeing Australia for more imports of the drug ice
At present, China is the main source of ice in Australia. That, however, could change with Mexican drug cartels targeting Australia to import more ice. Knowing how violent Mexican drug cartels can get, it would only be a matter of time before they start competing with Chinese gangs for domination of the ice trade in Australia, and that, indeed, is a scary, scary thought.
11. No pharmacological ice addiction treatment exists
Currently, there are no particular pharmacological treatments for ice addiction. For now, the most effective ice addiction treatment available is cognitive behaviour therapy. In this treatment approach, the ice addict is taught ways to modify their thinking, expectations, and behaviours. This method of addiction treatment also aims to boost their skills in coping with the various stressors that they encounter in their everyday lives.
On top of cognitive behavioural interventions, ice addicts who want to be well can also get help from self-help groups. This makes a combination that can eventually lead to long-term drug-free recovery. Add well-being programs to the mix, and the chances of recovery become better.
12. Getting ice addiction help can be expensive
There’s supposedly an ice epidemic going on in Australia, but the country appears to be ill-equipped for dealing with the problem. In NSW, there are only two state-funded specialist stimulant treatment centres, and it could take months before you or a loved one can get treatment because of the very long waiting lists. If you decide to go to a private clinic, be prepared to get charged somewhere between $15,000 and $135,000 a month.
Some people who seek ice addiction help, however, have found a way to go to rehab in style and on the cheap (relatively)—in Thailand and Bali, where luxury resort-style rehab centres only charge about $12,000 a month.
Whether the ice epidemic in Australia is real or just overstated, it doesn’t change the fact that ice addiction in Australia is a problem that could only get worse if not properly and decisively addressed. While the government has launched a taskforce and awareness campaigns against it, it has yet to make a serious dent on the ice trade in the country. As for curbing ice addiction in the workplace, employers also have to step up their efforts at drug screening in Australia to prevent any problems that could arise from it.
Ice addiction, indeed, is something that you should worry about.