Australia’s major meth problem

Methamphetamine combined with prescription drugs poses potentially fatal risks including cardiac arrhythmia

Methamphetamine-related deaths continue to rise across the country.

The number of deaths in Australia doubled between 2009 and 2015, according to a study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).

And of these, heart disease and violent suicide were the leading causes of meth-related death after drug toxicity.

Published in the journal Addiction, the study analysed all methamphetamine-related deaths occurring between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015 (n=1649).

There was a significant rise in all-cause mortality over time (P < 0.001).

Researchers found half of all methamphetamine-related deaths occurred in rural and regional locations, and nearly 80% were male.

While over half had a history of injecting drugs, only a few were known to be enrolled in a drug treatment program at the time of death.

The most common manner of death (43%) was accidental drug toxicity, and in a further fifth (22%) of cases, death was due to natural disease in conjunction with toxicity – the most frequent being cardiac and/or cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Even modest amounts of methamphetamine use were found to provoke cardiac arrhythmia.

Researchers also found a prevalence of psychiatric medications. One in eight cases had antipsychotics in their blood, while one in five had antidepressants in their blood (use with methamphetamine is contraindicated due to the risk of seizures and arrhythmias).

“To see such large and significant increases in mortality rates over the study period indicates a major methamphetamine problem,” says lead author Professor Shane Darke.

“With so much public attention focused on violence, many users may be unaware that heart disease is a major factor in methamphetamine-related disease.”

Professor Darke says due to this connection, we could expect to see a significant increase in deaths related to methamphetamine use and cardiovascular disease in the coming years.

Suicide also accounted for about 18% of methamphetamine-related deaths, particularly by violent means.

“The impulsivity and disinhibition associated with methamphetamine intoxication may be a factor,” says Professor Darke.

“Increasing the number of users in treatment appears to be a priority,” write the authors.

“While there are no proven pharmacotherapies for methamphetamine dependence, long-term residential rehabilitation has been shown to reduce methamphetamine use and harm.

“Methamphetamine users, and medical practitioners, need to be aware of the risks of combining methamphetamine with other substances, including prescription drugs.

“While changing drug use patterns may be difficult, a knowledge of the dangers is imperative.”

The study did not measure the impact of methamphetamine use upon the deaths of others.

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