Treatment for methamphetamine addiction at record high: Increased ‘ice’ use, mental illness + older/middle-aged people seeking help
Addiction to methamphetamines like ‘ice’ was at a record high among an increased number of people seeking treatment for drug dependence, according to a major report by Odyssey House NSW, which is one of Australia’s largest rehabilitation services and treats people from around the country.
Released today, the 2017 Odyssey House NSW Annual Report shows total admissions were up 27.5 per cent, with 789 adults entering its residential withdrawal and rehabilitation programs for alcohol and other drug dependence in Sydney during the 2016-17 financial year.
Odyssey House NSW CEO Julie Babineau said three key trends were evident during the year: continuing high levels of use of the crystal/’ice’ form of methamphetamine; a growing proportion of older drug users seeking help; and the increased incidence of co-existing mental illness.
“One in two (49%) Odyssey House clients cited methamphetamines as their principal drug of concern[*], the same proportion as in 2015-16,” Ms Babineau said.
“What we’re seeing now at Odyssey House is the legacy of years of serious methamphetamine problems following years of heroin problems, coupled with increasing use of methamphetamine in crystal form; ‘ice’ is more potent and addictive and causes more harm than traditional powder or paste forms like speed or base.”
Overall, use of any form of methamphetamine by Australians aged 14 and older is actually declining. According to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS[†]), recent use of methamphetamine declined from 2.1 per cent of respondents in the 2010 and 2013 surveys to 1.4 per cent in 2016.
However, the NDSHS also found ‘ice’ is increasingly the predominant form of methamphetamine. In 2010, 22 per cent of methamphetamine users reported crystal/‘ice’ was the main form they used in the past 12 months, jumping to 50 per cent of users in 2013 and 57 per cent in 2016.
“Ice can have severe negative impacts on people’s personal lives and their physical and mental health, and most find it very difficult to stop using the drug without help,” Ms Babineau said. “Some people quickly spiral downwards, particularly when their use becomes frequent and ongoing; others may be able to sustain a relatively normal life for years before they or their families reach out for help.”
Ms Babineau said Odyssey House is also continuing to see the gradual ageing of clients seeking help.
“Now, a record seven in ten (71%) clients are over 30 years of age; only four in ten clients (43%) were aged over 30 in 2007. Drug dependence – including ice addiction – is certainly not just a problem for young people.
“In fact, the 2016 NDSHS findings confirm that recent use of any illicit drugs has increased significantly for people in their 40s, from 11.8 per cent of respondents in 2001 to 16.2 per cent in 2016.
“It is interesting to note that methamphetamine use increased among people aged 40-49 (from 1.4% of respondents in the 2013 NDSHS to 2.0% in 2016) and remained stable at 0.6 per cent for those aged 50-59. The average age of ‘ice’ users in Australia in 2013 was 30 years; in 2016 it was 34 years.
“This means treatment services like ours are helping greater numbers of older people struggling to overcome serious drug problems and other health issues, who may have been dependent on various substances for decades. For example, someone may have started drinking and smoking cannabis as a teenager, survived the heroin crisis of the 1990s and then turned to ice in the 2000s. Rebuilding their lives requires significant effort, time and assistance, but it’s never too late,” she said.
Ms Babineau said the incidence of co-existing mental illness among Odyssey House clients continued to rise, up 23 per cent over the past year.
“During the financial year, 54 per cent of Odyssey House residential clients had a co-existing mental illness on admission, compared with 44 per cent of clients in 2016. This figure is concerning but sadly not surprising.
“Half our clients are dependent on ice, which can cause psychosis, depression and anxiety, or it can mask or exacerbate pre-existing mental conditions. Alcohol-related depression is also a significant issue. In addition, many clients have experienced trauma, violence, childhood abuse, homelessness or financial stress, which can all have significant impacts on their mental wellbeing. We treat people’s mental illness and drug dependence at the same time, which provides the best chance for overall recovery,” she said.
Although ice is a headline issue, Ms Babineau cautioned that it is just one of many drugs posing a danger.
“People with a substance use disorder often have poly-drug problems. We’re particularly concerned about the continuing risks of alcohol, heroin and misused prescription painkillers and sedatives, either alone or in potentially life-threatening combinations,” she said.
Alcohol remains a significant problem, nominated by 22 per cent of Odyssey House clients as their principal drug of concern in 2017, up from 20 per cent. Seven in ten of all clients listed alcohol as a drug of concern.
Odyssey House admissions for cannabis remained at a record low of 11 per cent.
Heroin accounted for 10 per cent of clients admitted in 2016-17, compared with 11 per cent the previous year. Ms Babineau said admissions for heroin and methamphetamines move in tandem: as one figure goes up, the other goes down, as people switch depending on which drug is more readily available or affordable.
While not a significant principal drug of concern, cocaine doubled from 1 to 2 per cent of admissions. Reported separately for the first time in the 2017 Odyssey House NSW Annual Report, ecstasy accounted for 0.5 per cent of admissions. Misuse of prescription painkillers/analgesics and opioids accounted for 1.3 per cent, while tranquilisers/sleeping pills also accounted for 1.3 per cent.
“Thankfully, Odyssey House can help men and women overcome drug dependence and mental health problems through our residential withdrawal and rehabilitation services, often with only a short time to receive treatment,” Ms Babineau said.
“We can assist families through our Parents’ and Children’s Program. During the year, 21 families – 23 parents and 25 children – participated in this program, which enables families to live safely together while the parent/s undertake rehabilitation and learn parenting skills, and the children receive support.
“Odyssey House now also has 11 free day-based community services throughout Sydney, launched this year with $3.5 million federal funding as part of the government’s response to the National Ice Taskforce Report.”
People may also contact Odyssey House on 1800 397 739 for information and general advice on residential services, community services, aftercare, Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment and other support. Odyssey House received approximately 35,000 enquiries during the year.
More than 40,000 people have been assisted to overcome dependence on alcohol and other drugs since Odyssey House opened its therapeutic community doors forty years ago in 1977.