Thursday, 3 July 2008

AMA Pushing Zero Tolerance (Ice - More Drug Myths Pt II)


Ice - More Drug Myths Part II

AMA Pushing Zero Tolerance

I recently wrote an article, Ice - More Drug Myths about the hysteria surrounding ‘Ice’ and the non existent epidemic. The AMA has joined in with the hysteria and put out a position statement that is reminiscent of the sensationalist type stories usually left to the Daily Telegraph or the HeraldSun.


DIARY: Amphetamines and the stronger version, methamphetamines are dangerous, powerful drugs. Abusing them increases the chance of dependancy, psychosis and other mental health problems. Like all powerful drugs, some people will have problems with them and these are the people who are regularly used as an example of what may happen if you decide to partake. Yes, there are some sad tales of abuse and the safest way to deal with amphetamines and methamphetamines is simply not to take them. Like climbing a mountain, there are risks involved and you would take every precaution possible to reach the top safely. Fucked if I know why someone would want to climb a mountain but if you’re going to take drugs, you need to apply the same principles. Your activity can be dangerous but the experience for some is worth it. Of course this is the same with most drugs including alcohol and cannabis. The key here is abuse or taking anything in excess.

What is rarely told though, is that if taken in moderation, the long term effects of amphetamines are minimal. Also these drugs are usually taken because they are enjoyable. The MSM and those pushing the anti-drug agenda have led us all to believe that normal, everyday people don’t take drugs and are only taken by those who are damaged or have a death wish. This is simple not reality. The fact is that taking drugs can be fun and they are enjoyed by millions of people each week. Whether it’s morally right or not isn’t a concern to most people except those who don’t take them. Thieving, murder and assault are moral issues, not drug taking. If your drug taking doesn’t effect others, it’s really your choice and not moralists nor the government.

Speed and alcohol were my drugs of choice for many years before I became addicted to heroin. Out of all the people who I knew who took speed, I was the only one to have a problem. I had always been a big drinker since my early teens and speed allowed me to drink for days. I must admit, they were some of the best times I ever had. I met lots of great people, had lots of sex and partied hard. Overuse though took it’s toll and I moved interstate to escape the scene I was in. It was really hard to stop thinking of speed. Every weekend, I had great difficulty going out and was often bored because of not taking speed. After a year or two, I got back to normal and returned home but still alcohol played a big part in my socialising. Kicking any amphetamine type drug is hard and drawn out. Amphetamine dependancy is not like heroin addiction. You can go days or weeks without amphetamines but heroin withdrawal starts within hours. Although heroin/opiates are physically addictive, amphetamines are not. I didn't have any physical withdrawal symptoms at all when I stopped taking speed because I didn't use everyday but on weekends.

I was a weekend warrior where I had to have speed every weekend or I was bored out of mind. My usage increased after a while and I was ‘speeding’ from Friday night to Sunday morning. Sundays and increasingly, Mondays were a write-off. Luckily I earned a good wage but it still played havoc on my finances. The real killer was the bar priced drinks which I often shouted because of my speed induced friendliness and taking multiple taxis to the next phase of a speed/alcohol binge. Speed gave me confidence and I made friends very quickly which was exciting for a 21 year old. I had a great group of friends, a high powered job, went to clubs and parties every weekend and got more sex than Frank Sinatra ... it was wonderful. 

After quitting, I got used to not taking speed because my use revolved around the weekends. During the week, I was just another nobody, going to work, watching TV and following a losing football team. I went through stages of running or swimming where my main excess was cooking. I maybe went out once through the week, usually to a restaurant with friends and a good red wine or three. Weekends were usually boozy on Friday or Saturday night but I still had great fun. My favourite pastime was definitely an Asian restaurant with friends, drinking lots of red wine, smoking lots of cigarettes and talking shit. Then back to someone’s house for more drinking lots of red wine, smoking lots of cigarettes and talking shit. Though speed was on my mind, my use was limited to 3 or 4 weekends a year.

I don't get to use speed much anymore. First of all I rarely drink and the two go together for me. Secondly, speed is for partying and that is not part of my life anymore.


Australia in general has a checkered history with alarmist reporting concerning amphetamines and now the The Australian Medical Association (AMA) have joined in. Recently. a press conference was held for the ‘AMA's Position Statement on Methamphetamine’ and there were some remarkable comments made.

 They [ice users] can be quite violent and aggressive, they're threatening to the staff in the hospital and to other patients here.

-Dr Rosanna Capolingua. AMA President.

The AMA are recommending that special units be set up at hospitals to deal with ice users. Acknowledging the dangers of drugs is fine but shooting off media friendly and alarmist statements doesn’t help anyone. The whole event was a jumble of odd statistics and the familiar drug hysteria usually confined to Zero Tolerance weirdoes. Standard prohibitionist tactics like misused terminology and links to major mental health problems seem to be the new face of the AMA. 

Over three-quarters of ice users or methamphetamine users - so we'd be talking about speed as well here - actually develop serious mental health problems. Over three-quarters of those, so we're talking about depression and anxiety, lack of motivation, agitation and inability to concentrate.

We've seen the violence, we see it in emergency departments and we also see it out on the streets. Many stories in the news feature violent episodes associated with methamphetamine use, and of course three-out-of-ten methamphetamine users will also develop psychosis.

We're talking significant serious mental illness. These people are hurt and damaged by methamphetamine use; we have to encourage people not to use this drug and we have to help those that have been caught in its trap.

-Dr Rosanna Capolingua. AMA President.

This is just wrong. The term user is being blurred with someone who has a dependancy problem. 3 in 10 DEPENDANT USERS will have psychotic symptoms, not 3 in 10 users as stated. A huge difference. I would love to know where figures came from for the claim, three-quarters of methamphetamine will develop serious mental health issues. I have never heard this before.

The term ‘psychosis’ is also thrown around loosely and portrayed as some major flip out where the user turns into the Hulk. Most “psychotic episodes’ last for 2-3 hours and is more common than we think. 

Referencing the MSM as evidence of a epidemic is worrying when it’s coming from the president of the AMA. This is a tactic used by ultra conservative politicians or nutter organisations like Drug Free Australia (DFA) and is not acceptable coming from a so-called medical organisation. 

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) welcomed the AMA's call for funding, but had some concerns. Annie Madden from AIVL rightly pointed out that violence from methamphetamines users is usually because of associated circumstances and most problems come from dependant users who are the minority.

“Most methamphetamine users do not become psychotic. There are some people who do, a minority who do, and that's usually related to extended periods of binge using, with people not sleeping, not eating - that sort of thing," 

"The vast majority of people use methamphetamine very occasionally recreationally, perhaps on the weekend or something, and they're not going to get to that point."

-Annie Madden. AIVL

The approach of the AMA is counter productive and will cause further alienation of dependant users. The main theme was the violence surrounding methamphetamine users. For medical body like the AMA to resort to junk science and using the MSM as a basis for their ‘evidence’ is worrying. Only this week, the AMA have put out a fear based brochure that flies in the face of scientific evidence. Yes there are dangers but statements giving the impression that cannabis is more dangerous than it really is, does not help the goal of reduced drug use. We, as a society are past that. The massive carnage to society caused by fear tactics and harsh policing does not work. We rely on organisations like the AMA to stick to medical facts, not do the job of the prohibitionists. There’s enough of those already.

New focus on cannabis dangers needed: AMA

ABC Website

The Australian Medical Association says there needs to be a new focus on alerting people to the dangers of cannabis. The AMA has launched a new brochure warning about the short and long-term effects of the drug. AMA president Dr Rosanna Capolingua says too many people still think of cannabis as a soft drug.

"Cannabis use is something that has increased in society overall over time and really there's been more and more evidence coming out of late of the effect of cannabis," she said.

"So with evidence around the mental health issues associated with cannabis, it's time to alert people."

"To alert young people in particular not to take up the use of drugs such as cannabis, and to certainly let people who use cannabis on a regular basis, or even sporadically, let them know what it is that it can do to them."

Back to methamphetamines. I had a look at a report from National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) regarding methamphetamines. It seems to contradict the severity of the methamphetamine problem or the ‘Ice Epidemic’ that the AMA has decided is worth losing their integrity about.

A report from National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC)

Aggression and ice

Aggression is also one of the problems that people worry about when one of their friends or family use ice. The relationship between ice use and aggression is not straight-forward. Ice use can increase aggression, but not all users become aggressive when they take ice. It is not clear why some people are more prone to violent behaviour than others, but some of the things that probably play a role are: 

  • Alcohol
  • Withdrawal from drugs, especially heroin
  • Barbiturate use
  • Personality
  • Not eating
  • Certain medical conditions (E.G. diabetes, brain tumours) 
  • Ice can also worsen someone’s response if they are angry for some other reason (e.g. fights over money or relationship problems), because of its adrenaline-like properties. 


Methamphetamine use can induce a brief psychosis consisting of paranoia and hallucinations, and can also worsen symptoms among people who have schizophrenia or other chronic psychotic disorders. Around three in ten dependent methamphetamine users will experience psychotic symptoms during a given year. Symptoms usually last up to 2-3 hours, but sometimes symptoms last longer and can lead to the person being hospitalised. 

Methamphetamine Use and Crime 

Types of Crime 

  • Dealing drugs and theft are common crimes among regular methamphetamine users. Almost three-quarters have committed these types of crimes in their lifetime. 
  • Thirty per cent of methamphetamine users report dealing drugs in the past month, and almost one in five committed a property crime during that time.
  • Fraud and violent crime are less common among methamphetamine users than drug dealing and theft. 
  • Just under one-third of methamphetamine users have committed these types of crimes in their lifetime, and less than one in ten have committed them in the past month. 
  • Violent crime is no more common among methamphetamine users than among other heavy drug users
  • Methamphetamine users who do commit violent crimes are likely to have a pre-existing tendency toward antisocial behaviour

Who commits crime? 

Methamphetamine users who are most likely to be involved in crime: 

    • use methamphetamine heavily (i.e., at least several times a week) 
    • use the more pure forms of ‘base’ methamphetamine and crystalline methamphetamine, or ‘ice’
    • also use heroin and a range of other drugs – are younger drug users (late teens or twenties) 
    • have a predisposition toward antisocial behaviour 

Reasons for crime 

  • Crime among methamphetamine users can be due to a need to fund drug use, particularly in situations where the person is using a lot of methamphetamine (or other drugs) and they are on a low income. 
  • A proportion of methamphetamine users also commit crimes because they have a predisposition to engage in crime, rather than because of their methamphetamine use. 

Information based on the findings from: 

McKetin, R., McLaren, J., and Kelly, E. (2005). The Sydney methamphetamine market: Patterns of supply, use, personal harms and social consequences. National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund Monograph Series No. 13. Australasian Centre for Policing Research, Adelaide. 

Produced by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, 2006. 

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