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Beyond ice: rethinking Australia's approach to illicit drugs

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Redefining drug use as a health and social issue within a harm reduction framework will require progressive policy

Crystalline methylamphetamine (“ice”) was widely discussed in Australia in 2015. At the beginning of 2016, the federal government National Ice Taskforce report1 and Prime Minister Turnbull’s response to the report2 attracted substantial media attention. Twelve months on, are the report’s recommendations, the funding pledged and the government’s response likely to reduce the toll of ice on the Australian community?

Ice is now readily available in illicit drug markets. Drug use surveillance found that, between 2009 and 2014, the proportion of drug users finding it “easy” or “very easy” to obtain the drug increased from 65% to 91%, and those reporting recent ice use increased from 37% to 61%.3 Between 2012 and 2014, ice as a drug most commonly injected in the previous month went from 10% to 22%.3 Recent ice users had a mean age of 40 years, were more likely to be unemployed, and tended toward multiple or polydrug use. Less than half were in treatment.3 Many reported recent borrowing, lending and re-using of needles and syringes, injection injury (such as bruising or scarring), a mental health problem,…