If you’ve been following the news over the past year, you might have been led to believe that there are drugged-up sociopaths stalking you at every turn.
Headlines have screamed: “Ice epidemic could bring nation to its knees”, “The icy grip of creeping death”, “Tide of evil”, and my favourite from the Age, “Ice: facing up to Satan’s drug.”
But while the media and politicians are happy to stoke fear and confusion about this drug, it’s important to be clear about what is actually happening, and what actions should, and should not be taken.
“Ice” is crystal methamphetamine, a stimulant that works primarily by increasing the brain’s dopamine levels. Taking the drug can heighten feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, self-confidence, motivation and sexual desire. Abuse of the drug can make it harder and harder to experience these feelings over time.
Whilst methamphetamine use has been stable in Australia for the last 15 years, its use has increased markedly in rural and regional areas.
Taking a look at some simple facts can help to understand why this might be the case. A University of Arizona study found a consistent pattern of risk-factors which predisposed people to methamphetamine addiction. Among them were social isolation, difficulty coping with life, anxiety, boredom and depression.
The Australian Department of Health says that, for young methamphetamine users, “Boredom appeared to be the key factor.”
Although the vast majority of users are employed and use the drug sporadically, three-quarters of those who come to depend on it and require rehabilitation are unemployed.
So what is the government, and Tony Abbott’s newly-formed “Taskforce”, proposing to do about the problem? Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has announced that of the $45 million pledged to fighting “ice”, half of it will go to police resources.
Users and petty dealers will be targeted, with new laws allowing outrageous prison terms of up to 25 years for dealing. This is despite the overwhelming evidence from the US over the past 40 years, which shows that greater policing and harsher sentencing do absolutely nothing to lessen drug use.
Instead, they waste billions of dollars and create a “criminal” underclass of small-time users who become unable to find employment and housing.
There are proposals for rehabilitation and early-intervention funding. But like any promise to increase social spending, they’ll have to be seen to be believed.
The Abbott government, with its cuts to welfare, education and health is only contributing to the kind of society in which drug-addiction can flourish.
The best way of fighting against drug “pandemics” is to fight the budget cuts that will only make life worse for the unemployed and low-wage workers.