Saturday, 26 April 2008

Ice - More Drug Myths

Contrary to popular drug policy discourses that portray drug users as descending from first use into a hell of dependence and addiction, a new analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that most first-time users of most drugs were not using them a year later and that for nearly all illicit drugs, more than 90% of first-time users did not become dependent.

-Drug War Chronicle, Issue #532, 4/18/08

One of the common myths put out by the the previous & current governments is that ice is highly addictive, if not instantly addictive. This new finding, again proves that governments are prepared to spend hundreds of millions of public money on misinformation with no evidence or, as in this case, research.

Mr Pyne said a special target of the new funding was use of the highly addictive and dangerous drug “ice”.

-Health Budget 2007-2008

Ex PM, John Howard & Current PM, Kevin Rudd were once falling over each other to be the “toughest on drugs” especially concerning the “scourge of ice” as Rudd once put it. The “ice” epidemic had hit Australia and there was much political point scoring to be made. They weren’t the only ones in on the act though, Chris Pyne, Bromwyn Bishop, Peter Debnam, Morris Iemma, etc. were adamant unless something was done, ice was going to bring society to it’s knees much like the crack/cocaine explosion in the the US during the late 1980s. Society survived.


"My guests today in Melbourne University Up Close are Associate Professor John Fitzgerald and Dr. Fances Bramwell.

So, John, essentially what you are saying is that, in Australia there is no epidemic of ice use.”

Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, Principal Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, University of Melbourne: 

“Yeah, and it is not to say that ice use is not problematic.”

-Melbourne University Up Close Episode 15

So much for the ice epidemic.

Although the current government is still too nervous to declare any real drug policy except to be “tough on drugs”, the previous Howard government were extremely focussed. A new government initiative called Zero Tolerance was introduced during the Howard reign and was in direct conflict with Australia’s official drug policy of Harm Minimisation. The underlying Zero Tolerance theme of stronger law enforcement and/or harsher penalties for users and dealers were media favourites and appealed to the Murdoch masses. Zero Tolerance also focussed on the constant damnation of the less dangerous recreational drugs like marijuana and ecstasy (the 2 biggest killers, alcohol and tobacco were conveniently mostly overlooked) and were also lapped up by the MSM. But the biggest initiative was a targeted campaign against ice.

The Government is investing $9.2 million over two years in new funding to expand the next stage of the NDC to include a focus on ice, because of its particularly addictive and dangerous qualities. The campaign will continue to target other amphetamines, as well as ecstasy and cannabis.

-Health Budget 2007-2008

The AFP and John Howard claimed the “heroin epidemic” ended because of their tough and successful strategies but the “ice epidemic” proved that wasn’t the case at all. The manufacturing of heroin had simply been dropped in favour for production of amphetamines which was more convenient and suited a changing market by the same crime organisations in S.E. Asia. Ice had snuck up on them and rather than look incompetent, they engaged ice as the new epidemic. There were several anti ice advertising campaigns depicting unrealistic and rare situations that were standard fare when it came to drug hysteria. The ads included an office worker unable to sleep after smoking the drug; a man flying into a psychotic rage in a hospital, fighting policemen and smashing a window; A young woman compulsively picking at her skin because she thinks there are bugs under there; and a young man fighting with his mother. There was even a full colour glossy booklet to help parents detect if their children were potential drug abusers. Add to that, the constant beefed up reports of “manic” or “violent” ice abusers in the MSM and addiction was a foregone conclusion along with the image of rabid and desperate ice addicts ripping up hospitals and family homes. The core of Zero Tolerance is misinformation and fear - and it works. The problem was, no real research into ice had previously been undertaken and ecstasy was proving to be a lot less harmful than first thought. But like all moral based strategies, evidence wasn’t such an issue and panic had already taken a hold of the public’s attention, giving plenty of room to fight this new scourge.

The graphic nature of it is to show the dangers of continued use but also to scare people about trying it in the first place because we haven't got accurate figures on how addictive it is. We know it's addictive, but because it's sort of clandestine, we think it can be up to 40 per cent addictive. In other words 40 per cent of people who take it can get addicted to it. And that's horrendous.

-John Herron, Chairman - The Australian National Council on Drugs

Terminology has always been a tool for politicians but Howard made it a weapon. Just like Rudd’s conversion of getting drunk into binge drinking, Howard turned dependancies into addictions, recreational drug use into drug abuse, zero tolerance into harm prevention (to allow confusion with harm minimisation) etc. There has always been a finite line between the addiction and dependence but drug propaganda has blurred them together as addiction. The government and many drug clinics now often class ice as a highly addictive drug to further demonise it. The fact is though, amphetamines form a dependancy, not an addiction. The same goes for marijuana. 

While the myths of ice addiction are being exposed I probably should summarise the popular beliefs the are part of government propaganda and media hysteria. 

Ice is not addictive, Ice is not a new drug, there never was an ice epidemic, ice is not usually a violent drug and ice does not cause schizophrenia.

Ice is simply methamphetamine made for smoking and methamphetamine is a stronger form of amphetamine. Smoking ice has the same effect as injecting strong speed ... a euphoric rush. It’s been around since the late sixties but Korea and Taiwan who are part our main illicit drug region have ramped up production which is why ice is now more common. 

Schizophrenia is generally permanent, incurable and require large doses of strong medications in order to keep it under minimal control. Amphetamines do not cause these diseases. They can, however, cause the user to temporarily suffer symptoms (hallucinations, paranoia) which are associated with psychosis and schizophrenia. These are generally brought on by inducing large quantities and/or taking them for several consecutive days. Hallucinations are brought on not so much by the direct action of the drug but by sleep deprivation. 

The violence associated with ice is mostly a beatup by the sensationalist MSM. The “violent episodes” are usually the result of bingeing on any amphetamine over 2 or more days and almost always, alcohol is a contributing factor. The mixture of sleep deprivation, constant alertness, gallons of alcohol and amphetamines can lead to some naturally aggressive individuals to be contrived as having an ice flipout. Most ice experiences do not show any aggression let alone violence. Amphetamines are renown for causing over friendliness and tend to make people talk too much or want to have sex rather than become violent. 

Between the alcoholics, the heroin addicts, and the ice users, we have incidents here most days. Probably twice a week, they!|d be violent. Mostly, they!|re verbal. Ice users are not the majority. The majority of problem people are alcoholics.

-Dr. Chris Towey. D & A doctor from a clinic in Broadmeadows

The MSM are notorious for declaring that society is deteriorating from various causes especially drugs. Though ice has been around for nearly 40 years and similar effects can be achieved from injecting methamphetamines, a media panic started not long after heroin became less prominent in the media. As the government cranked up the ice rhetoric so did the media’s reporting of violent incidents. The truth is, there have always been violent incidents involving drug use and the main cause is alcohol but with a slight increase of aggressive behaviour involving methamphetamines, the time was ripe for a new epidemic to catch the media’s eye. 

Because there has been such extensive media coverage of this purported relationship between violence and ice use, what we get now when we talk to service providers, is a reproduction of the messages that the media are portraying. So, when someone walks into the service and they might be agitated or violent, very quickly the service provider says, !!!OOh, they must be on ice.!!!  And so, you get this reproduction of the message that is actually communicated in the media, rather than one that is based on evidence and based on good clinical practice. We weren’t receiving news amongst the service providers of high levels of violence related to methamphetamine use five years ago, when the peak of methamphetamine use was occurring in Australia. We are seeing that now.

-Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, Principal Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, University of Melbourne

So another new study of current data is performed and it shines more light on some well known myths. Unfortunately for the current and previous governments, it contradicts their opinion based policies. This brings into question, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on forcing misinformation onto the Australian public. An innocent mistake is fine but the depth the government and government funded NGOs went to without sufficient information or any research is inexcusable.

Such data may not fit some popular narratives about drug use -- particularly the widely-held notion that methamphetamine is "more addictive" than other substances -- but that's what the numbers say.

-Drug War Chronicle, Issue #532, 4/18/08

The Facts:

•Ice is not a new drug

•There never was an ice epidemic

•Ice is NOT addictive.

•Ice is not usually a violent drug

•Ice does not cause schizophrenia

•No drug is instantly addictive. Some drugs can cause addiction after prolonged use.

•More than 90% of first-time users of all drugs(except alcohol) do not become dependent

•5% of first time amphetamine (ice, ecstasy, speed) users became dependent after one year

•6% of first time marijuana users became dependent after one year

•13% of first time heroin users became dependent after one year

•Marijuana is NOT addictive**

•Ecstasy is NOT addictive*

•Speed is NOT addictive*

•Ice is NOT addictive*

•LSD is NOT addictive

•Inhalants are NOT addictive

•Heroin is addictive

•Cocaine is addictive

•Alcohol is addictive

•Tobacco is addictive

•Benzodiazepines are addictive


*  These drugs are can form a severe long term dependancy if abused for too long.

** For a small number of people, a dependancy can occur if abused for too long.  


phallacy said...

"Ice", as smokable methamphetamine, began entering OZ in the late 90s, almost entirely confined to the Philipino community, by mail in small, personal + friends, quantities. As '... lesser breeds without the law.." there was almost no interest from the authorities until it began infecting real people.
Also, any moral panic in a storm, one of the Rodent's maxims.

The Happy Revolutionary said...

Does some of the foregoing discussion depend upon a particular definition of addiction? With marijuana, for instance, there are definitely people who could be called 'dependent', in as much as they feel they can't cope without the drug.

Having said that, I certainly agree that the MSM do a lot of demonising of drugs and their users. 'Instant addiction' is nonsense, along with 'zero tolerance', and diagnoses like 'drug-induced psychosis' are often conflated with schizophrenia, when in fact these are two, clearly distinguishable disorders.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comments.

Phallacy: I didn't know about the Philipino connection. I like your reference to "real people".

THR: There are clear distinctions between addiction and dependancy. The easiest way to look at it is that dependancy is physiological and addiction is physical and physiological. When the body craves it is addiction and when your mind craves it is dependancy.

Dependancy can cause symptoms similar to addiction but the physical effects of dependancy withdrawal come from the physiological trauma of mental cravings NOT physical craving.

Addiction causes the body to react, craving the drug when quitting as well as the physiological craving.

You can usually spot the hype when someone describes the physical effects of the so called addictive drug as depression,panic, sweating, suicidal thoughts etc. That is dependancy, not addiction but it alludes to the drug as being dangerous. Addiction has all these AND stomach cramps, severe shaking, vomiting, increased heart rate etc. Real physical effects of addiction are unique to addiction. Physical effects from dependancy are general health issues caused by physiological trauma but to make it more sensational, some will attribute the physical problems as the result of physical dependancy.

Some doctors also like to distinguish between addicted pain patients and other addicts by saying that those who get addicted to opiates thorough normal prescription medication are dependant but those who obtain opiates without a pain problem for the sake of their addiction have an addiction. This is just for the sake of the patient who might find it hard to cope with the stigma of being "addicted". Being dependant is more socially acceptable.

Jack Dorf said...

Terry, another fantastic post.

Anecdotally, I have many freinds working in the live music scene around the country. Where the use of ice & speed is not uncommon.

Maybe its the company I keep, but most of the users I've known are generally alcoholics before they start hitting the P. It helps heavy drinkers maintain coherency, and allows them to stay in that "life of the party" phase longer.

And to date I've not known anyone to sustain their use for a year or more. So I'd agree that its a dependency and not an addiction.

I tried some Yaba pills on Koh Phangan in the early ninties. I'd tried speed a couple of times before, but never really liked it.

Those yaba pills still rate as one of the best trips I've ever had. Days of partying, drinking & dancing. But eventually I had to collapse and spend a couple of days lying in a semi comatose state in a beach bungalow.

Given these experiences, I find it hard to imagine anyone forming a long term dependency on ice.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

All I have to add is that my Brother-in-law has a severe ice addiction and has tried to give up a few times, each time experiencing severe withdrawal. His attempts have all failed.

Also, dope may not be addictive, but it is far from a mild drug. The prevalence of depression and psychotic illness amongst heavy users is frightening. I smoked quite regularly when I was younger, but gave up following experiencing a number of panic attacks.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Jack.
I went through the speed thing about 20 years ago. I did it every weekend for a year or two. I found it such a nasty drug to kick. It wasn't like heroin at all where you need it everyday but every weekend. Friday night would blur into Sunday morning and then 2-3 days to recover which often meant that Mondays I was ringing in sick for work. The worst problem was the weekends became so boring and I couldn't go out without speed. I moved interstate to get away from it.
BTW, what are Yaba pills?

Thanks for your comments, Bluestherapy.
Bad news about your brother-in-law. Was his withdrawal with the typical 'opiate withdrawal' physical symptoms? Or was it the physiological cravings causing his body to react? Your body doesn't crave amphetamines like opiates or benzos.

I agree about dope to an extent. I can't smoke for the reasons you don't. Panic and paranoia! But this is the whole point. No one should take a drug which reacts badly with them. Whether it's pharmaceutical, marijuana, alcohol or whatever. Any drug if abused will cause problems. Alcohol for example is fine if you partake sensibly. The weekend, you may have a few too many for the pleasure but not through the week. Same with dope. Some dope smokers seem to smoke constantly and wonder why they have problems. Maybe a dope hangover would help?

phallacy said...

Terry - "BTW, what are Yaba pills?"
YABA is Thai for 'crazy drug',the form of methampethamine prevalent in Thailand from the 80s.
The Filipinos use a similar name but i can't remember it, so long ago.
I think the simplest definitions are -
hedonist = uses for fun
dependent = uses out of habit, decreasing fun
addict = uses to feel normal, little, if any, fun, purely to avoid "not using".

phallacy said...

For what it's worth, I finally remembered the Filipino word, SHABU, for methampethamine which the Thais' call 'yaba'

Gledwood said...

I've seen a couple of things about crystal meth in America. There were meth-heads in rehab, who'd been in there2 months. Unlike crackheads who look pretty normal within a single month off cocaine, these people looked DIRE. Really terrible. There's also a thing called "meth mouth" where they smoke it the way heroin is smoked over here. The fumes are so strong they literally rot teeth. Nasty business!

As for schizophrenia they say taking drugs like that is like pulling the trigger on a loaded gun. Most guns aren't loaded, but some people's are. Which is why some people stay psychotic and others don't. So I hear :-)

Anonymous said...

You folk are splitting hairs. Its all very nice to delve into the nuances of a recreational drug taking/smoking/drinking experience, but as much as I enjoy a drink, and as much as I am tolerant of other's use of dope etc, I do not think the chaos caused by even a miniscule percentage of addicts, be they heroin or meth addicts, is too small to be a problem. Why should I wirk to buy a camera for example just to have a junkie smash a car window to sell it to get high, or some selfish dumbass make a living at the expense of someone's daughter, or people with your tolerances find they run out of arguments when being seduced in Bali to mule for assholes? Gaols are full of the minority of the community and the state spends money on gaols, why wouldnt the government spend money to stop a drug that has a 14 year old who just thought theyd give it a go not knowing theyd enjoy it so much that they had to find the maturity to not do it again? That kid/person/guy/woman/etc might have done so much more in life had someone with your tolerances did not think it would be OK make a few dollars pushung shit. My mind can never be clear enough, my imagination never consistently reliable, as when nothing is interfering with the natural function. For those who need a crutch surely it would be better to find out why drugs would be so important. The campaign against Meth/Ice is the right way to go. I bet many if you are helping big tobacco with their profits too!