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Heart disease and suicide killing more methamphetamine users

A national seven-year study has found that the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in Australia doubled between 2009 and 2015, with heart disease and violent suicide identified as prominent causes of death.

The study, undertaken by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre was published in the journal Addiction.

It analysed 1649 cases of methamphetamine-related death retrieved from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and found that in a fifth of cases (22 per cent) death was attributed to natural disease in conjunction with methamphetamine toxicity.

The most frequent natural disease was cardiac and/or cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Lead author Professor Shane Darke said the results were indicative of a major public health issue and highlighted a hidden problem.

“To see such large and significant increases in mortality rates over the study period indicates a major methamphetamine problem,” Professor Darke said.

“With so much public attention focused on violence, many users may be unaware that heart disease is a major factor in methamphetamine-related death.

“Without increased awareness of the connection between methamphetamine use and cardiac and/or cardiovascular disease we could expect to see a significant increase in cases of this kind in the coming years.”

Suicide accounted for 18 per cent of methamphetamine-related deaths, with specific characteristics around methods and gender. Studies of suicide in the general population have consistently shown that males predominately use violent means and females self-poisoning. 

Professor Darke urged health professionals to be aware of the prominent role of violent suicide and take appropriate steps to monitor methamphetamine users.

“The impulsivity and disinhibition associated with methamphetamine intoxication may be a factor,” he said.

“In this series, suicide by violent means – most prominently hanging – was the main method used by both genders.”

Other findings of the study include: nearly half of cases occurring in rural and regional locations; the most common manner of death (43 per cent) is accidental drug toxicity; and even modest amounts of methamphetamine may provoke cardiac arrhythmia.

The research also noted that there were 245 deaths from traumatic accidents, including 156 where the person was driving a car or motorbike.

The AMA is very concerned about the health impacts crystal methamphetamine has on users, their families, and the health system. The AMA’s Position Statement on methamphetamine can be found on their website here: position-statement/methamphetamine-2015