The ice epidemic is on the rise, right? Well, no. Looking beyond the media hype and political rhetoric, the actual story is not what you think.
Whatever the medium, be it television, news feed or media outlet, a recurring image is flashing before our eyes. The ice user. The quintessential image of the young man responsible for “tearing our country apart.” A man, who for all intents and purposes, is “evil” and has forever besmirched his good name. But his poor choices are not his fault, it is ice that is to blame, and it will get your kids too, if you let them.
We have seen this story play out a hundred times over the past year or so. The name and the gender interchangeable, but the underlying motif the same. Ice use is on the rise, and it leads to some pretty scary stuff. The media echoes frenzy; politicians are talking about “ice reforms” and pledging money to the cause; the only person who is safe is, seemingly, no-one. We are overwhelmed with images of what it means to be an “ice user” and a terrifying picture is created.
Before we buy into this image, we actually need to know the facts.
The reality is that the abuse of ice, or more accurately, “crystalline methamphetamine,” is not on the rise. People who use methamphetamine are not always aggressive, nor are there no treatment options available. When we are sold this narrative, it creates an overwhelming sensation that we are not safe and that there is no hope.
Now, I don’t want to underplay it. Obviously, drug use is problematic. Methamphetamine use is problematic. But the reality? The reality is that methamphetamine use remains stable across the Australian population. It isn’t rising. What is happening, is that methamphetamine users are more regularly using a different form of methamphetamine (as opposed to speed or base) which is being referred to as ice. The purity of this form of methamphetamine can be unpredictable, and much more potent. This means that users may be using much more than they are physically and mentally equipped to handle, which exacerbates the negative side effects. This may be what is contributing to increasing emergency department presentations.
It doesn’t mean there is an “ice epidemic.”
So why are we being fed this narrative? You don’t have to like what I am saying, or even agree. But like with all debates and critical thinkers, it’s imperative to look at all sides of the story before adding to the conversation. Isn’t that our ethical obligation? Isn’t that the obligation of our policy makers and people leaders?
Let’s look at the bigger picture. In Australian society, alcohol causes the most harm. Research continues to show that it accounts for more deaths, hospitalisations and illnesses than methamphetamine (or any other drug). Why aren’t we talking about this too? Why aren’t we seeing reports on an “alcohol scourge” or an “alcohol epidemic”?
Next time you are sitting in the pub with a schooner in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and want to discuss the merits of the ice epidemic debate…I implore you to turn inwards and reflect on the reality of what is going on. A reality that is not misrepresented. A reality that you haven’t just heard from some bloke on the street or from some media outlet try to cater to an agenda. Rather than fear mongering, rather than contributing to the disconnection of those who are already disconnected, let’s show some compassion and look at solutions. The problem of methamphetamine use needs to be given a human face, not one that is untreatable or beyond hope.
The people who use substances are just that: people. Ice use doesn’t have to destroy lives, but our ignorance just might.