End of the party

By Kim Powell

With significant increases in the number of Australians using ‘party drugs’, including ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine, the NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos unveiled the Amphetamines, Ecstasy and Cocaine: A Prevention and Treatment Plan 2005-2009 to tackle the use of psychostimulants in young people, long-haul truck drivers, indigenous people, injecting drug users, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people with mental health issues.

“The seriousness of the problem should not be underestimated,” the Minister said.

“Amphetamines are now the second most commonly used illicit drugs after cannabis.”

According to Mr Hatzistergos, up to 12,000 Sydneysiders are dependent on methamphetamine or ‘ice’. The Government’s plan reflects the whole-of-government psychostimulant strategy being developed by the NSW Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and the State Government has set aside $400,000 over two years for its implementation, including research into the use of pharmacotherapies for treatment of drug dependence.

Despite overall illicit drug use declining over the past few years, the number of Australians using psychostimulants – such as speed, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy – has increased. For the majority of non-problematic users, these drugs are taken for recreational purposes and many stop using them as they get older.

Polydrug use is common (such as combining ecstasy and alcohol and/or tobacco) and although mortality rates are low, many of the harms are mental-health related.

Research indicates that a significant number of long-haul drivers and shift workers also misuse these drugs and little is known about the long-term effects.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Health Minister, Clair Cameron, said Amphetamines, Ecstasy and Cocaine: A Prevention and Treatment Plan would assist health workers and hospital staff recognise people who had been taking these drugs.

“It’s about developing systems,” she said.

“How to make sure they are all treated in the same way, how do we prevent people getting hooked on these drugs and if they’re on it, how are we going to help them get off?”

Some of the projects in the plan include:
• investigating ways to help GPs recognise and treat psychostimulant-related health issues;
• formalising an alert system to ensure health services are aware of emerging trends in drug use;
• investigating a clinical trial of dexamphetamine as a substitution therapy for at-risk users;
• developing a comprehensive strategy for the management of substance misuse in indigenous communities; and
• collaborating with the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy, Workcover and the Roads and Traffic Authority to investigate the extent and nature of psychostimulant use in the long-haul trucking industry and develop a range of strategies to reduce the health impacts in this group;

Australians and drug use
According to the 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, almost two in every five Australians had used an illicit drug at some time in their lives and almost one in seven had used them in the 12 months prior to the survey. However, between 2001 and 2004 the proportion of Australians who had recently used illicit drugs declined from 16.9 per cent to 15.3 per cent. Tobacco use is also down, from 23.2 per cent in 2001 to 20.7 per cent last year.

In the decade to 2004:
• Alcohol use increased from 73 per cent up to 83.6 per cent
• Cannabis use dropped to its lowest rate, at 11.3 per cent
• Ecstasy use increased significantly from 1.2 per cent to 3.4 per cent
• Cocaine use has doubled to one per cent
• Heroin use remained constant at 0.2 per cent
Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use is estimated to cost the nation at least $34.5 billion, of which tobacco accounts for 60 per cent, alcohol for 22 per cent and illicit drugs account for 17 per cent.


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