Treat ice addiction as health issue: experts

Despite the recommendations of the Ice Taskforce, the Australian government continues to define the problem of ice addiction as a criminal justice problem rather than as a health and social issue with dire consequences, say experts writing in the Medical Journal of Australia

Dr Matthew Frei, Clinical Director of Turning Point, and Dr Alex Wodak, Emeritus Consultant, from St Vincent’s Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Service in Sydney, wrote that “the prevailing theme of the Ice Taskforce report was an emphasis on drug treatment over law enforcement measures as a response to ice use”, but that the government had failed to act on its recommendations.

“Governments continue to define the issue as primarily a criminal justice problem, use pejorative terms when referring to people who use drugs, and generously support law enforcement measures while parsimoniously funding health and social interventions,” they wrote.

“Australian Commonwealth, state and territory governments allocated about two-thirds of drug spending to law enforcement and only 9% for prevention, 21% for drug treatment and 2% to harm reduction over the 2009–10 financial year.

“After decades of this approach, Australia’s illicit drug market is expanding. Not only are illicit drugs easy to obtain but prices have fallen and many newly identified psychoactive drugs have appeared, often more dangerous than older drugs. Over recent decades, drug-related deaths, disease, crime, corruption and violence appear to have increased.”

The authors noted that crystalline methylamphetamine dominates the market compared with less potent powder forms of the drug or speed and that “vast sums largely spent on criminal justice measures have only succeeded in making a bad drug problem much worse”.

“While the Ice Taskforce acknowledgement of the role of treatment is positive, it follows years of parsimonious funding for drug treatment that has left Australia with an inflexible, poor quality system with limited capacity. This would not be considered acceptable anywhere else in the health sector,” they wrote.

“An encouraging aspect of the Taskforce recommendations was the provision of Medicare item numbers for the relatively new discipline of addiction medicine. This was implemented in November 2016, ending many years of struggle for this important specialty … [this] will help addiction medicine recruit new trainees and build a specialist alcohol and other drug sector.”

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