Family & Relationships Healthcare

Methamphetamines are Affecting Aboriginal Youth

On television, you may have noticed the growing number of commercials addressing the use of Methamphetamines (crystal meth, ice, speed, etc). In the news, you may have seen a report of a $320 million ‘ice bust’ in Perth, the largest ever in WA. Meth has become a growing issue in Australia, specifically in Western Australia.

Methamphetamines are stimulant drugs (speeds up) that have short and long term effects.

Short Term Effects

  • Feeling of pleasure and confidence
  • Alertness & energy
  • Itching & scratching
  • Enlarged pupils and dry mouth
  • Teeth grinding
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast heartbeat & breathing
  • Reduced appetitive
  • Increased sex drive

Long Term Effects

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Restless sleep
  • Dry mouth and dental problems
  • Regular cold/flu
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Breathlessness
  • Stiffness
  • Anxiety, paranoia, & violence
  • Ice Psychosis (delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre/aggressive/violent behavior)
  • Depression
  • Heart & kidney problems
  • Risk of stroke
  • Becoming tolerant to drug (need to take more for same effect)
  • Dependence on drug for day-to-day tasks
  • Financial, work, & social problems

One thing that makes meth exceptionally dangerous is the fact that users become unpredictable. During one use, the user can go from euphoria to intense sadness to a violent outburst, thus becoming a danger to him/herself and those around him/her. Since many users are consuming meth intravenously it leaves the person open to all diseases linked to needle sharing (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, etc).

Meth use in Australia

Australia is now rated one of the highest in the world for use of meth. The proportion of weekly users has grown from 9.3% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2013. Also the way of ingesting methamphetamines has changed. People used to consume it mostly by powder, however, ingesting it as ice (crystallised form) has more than doubled from 2010 to 2013. It is becoming increasingly more common for people to use meth in Australia.

Western Australia is above the national average of people 14+ that admit to trying meth (WA 3.8; Average 2.1). Police in the Kimberley region (northern Western Australia) have seen a rise in the use of meth, specifically in the Aboriginal communities. The phrase “out of control” has been linked with the use of meth in the Kimberley. Meth has been called the new drug of choice. Some of the reasons for the increased use may be due to a desire to escape from reality. The realities in many of these communities are high unemployment rates, self-esteem issues, health problems, domestic violence, and suicide issues.

What does this mean for the youth in these communities?

Attempting to escape reality has been modeled to them time and time again, with the use of alcohol, drugs, and at times suicide. Many will chose to model what they see being done, whether of not they are verbally told otherwise. In these remote communities, there is not a lot for the youth to do outside of school hours.

Also, ice has been dubbed a party drug. This further models to the youth that ice is socially appropriate and helps people to ‘have a good time’. In the Kimberley, there have been cases of children as young as 12 using meth for the first time. To add to the problem, typically ice users do not show signs of use, unless one is extremely close to them. Thus making it difficult for many to notice if a youth has been using it. It’s especially hard to track where there maybe neglect in the home and children are missing school; two problems that can be common in remote communities.

Due to the newness of the problem, there is a lack of education for the youth about the possible outcomes of meth use. In cities, there are services for that type of education, but it typically takes a while for it to make it to the smaller more remote communities.

Specific for adolesents

While adolescents are developing, any drug use can lead to damage. However, meth can seriously damage youths and leave them with long-term consequences even if they become clean down the road. Meth specifically can cause chemical and molecular changes in their brain, including nerve damage. One specific example is that a person can remain paranoid long after they stop using the drug. Further there can be issues with blood pressure that may lead to brain bleeds or stroke, even in teens. Currently there is no treatment to reverse these affects.

What is being done?

The government has acknowledged the problem with meth use. There have been task forces established on federal and state level in Western Australia. The task force focuses on stoping distribution and productions of ice.  Production of ice typically is done in the home and is extremely dangerous. Home cooking (term used for making ice) can cause health issues to the maker, those in the home, and those living nearby. In addition, explosions can occur.

Many mental health wards and rehabilitation centres have been filled with people who have ice psychosis or withdrawing from meth use. However, many of the rehabilitation centres were originally trained and designed for marijuana use and so there is a call for meth detox services being bolstered. Many facilities have a minimum two-week waiting period for an appointment, with a one-month waiting period for placement in a rehabilitation centre. Further, the mental health wards are becoming so full that there is not enough room for other people who need help for other mental health issues, including those on suicide watch.

With all this happening, what should be done?

  • There is a HUGE need for people to become aware and educated about meth, specifically in the smaller remote communities and the youth.
  • There needs to be prevention among the youth, before they themselves need rehabilitation centres.
  • It is also critical that the youth are taught that escaping from their realities will not actually change them.

Some ways for that to be done is by helping them find meaningful activities, hope, purpose, identity, and a sense of belonging. This can only be accomplished through community, family, church, organizations, and individuals coming together in partnership.