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How many people use crystal methamphetamine?

Page Summary

summaries
  • Relatively few Australians report using methamphetamines (including crystal methamphetamine 'ice') compared to other drugs.
  • The effects of methamphetamines (including ice) can however be far reaching, impacting not only those using ice but also families, friends, communities and workplaces.
  • Data from the 2022-2023 National Drug Strategy Household Survey suggests
      • overall rates of recent methamphetamine use have declined over recent years, but
      • among those who do use methamphetamine, crystal is the more popular form of the drug and
      • those who use crystal (as opposed to other forms of methamphetamine) are more likely to use it more regularly
  • Multiple data sources also indicate harms related to methamphetamine use are high in Australia.

Measuring crystal methamphetamine ('ice') use in the population is difficult and many people report higher rates in their communities than are reflected in general population surveys. The data we include here come from a number of sources, including population surveys, the National Wastewater Monitoring Program, hospital and other treatment centre data. What is clear from these data is that the impact of ice on many communities around Australia is significant. It is important to note that there are many reasons why people may use ice

Ice use in regional and remote communities

Data from several sources shows rates of methamphetamine use and related harms in regional and remote areas in Australia has fluctuated overtime. Earlier data from the National Hospital Morbidity Database (2016-17) indicated people from remote and very remote areas of Australia received hospital care for methamphetamine-related problems at a higher rate than people from capital cities. The 2022-23 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, indicated that rates of methamphetamine use were lower in major cities (1.1%) compared to regional areas (1.6%), and remote or very remote areas (2.1%). However, among those who had used in the past 12 months most were from major cities (71-78%). The latest data from the 2023 National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report also found that capital city consumption has recently overtaken regional consumption. (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission). Further monitoring is needed. 

Ice use in different populations

There are also other groups of people in Australia who are more likely to use methamphetamine or more likely to experience harms related to methamphetamine compared to others. These groups include young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities.

Learn more about methamphetamine use and its impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Access culturally appropriate resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Is ice use increasing in Australia?

It is difficult to determine whether use (including ice) has increased in Australia. Data from the 2022-23 National Drug Strategy Household Survey suggest that overall recent rates of methamphetamine (including ice) use in the general population has declined over the previous 10 years.

Other data and hospital records indicate that rates of regular and methamphetamine use have increased. Additionally, the number of people who regularly use methamphetamines who report using crystal methamphetamine ('ice') as their main form of methamphetamine increased from 22 to 50% between 2010 and 2019,  before declining to 43.5% in 2022-23. Comparatively, reports of powder/speed use  decreased from 50 to 20% between 2010 and 2019, before rising to 31.1% in 2022-23. The number of individuals reporting smoking as the main route of has also increased (from 19 to 41%). Data from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS, 2023), nearly all who reported using methamphetamine reported using the crystal form (99%), followed by 13% using powder among among people who inject drugs.

Taken together these data suggest that, among people who use methamphetamines, crystal is the most commonly used form of the drug.

From 2019 to 2022-23, among people who use methamphetamines regularly, there has been:

Source: 2022-23 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

Data from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program indicates that methamphetamine consumption increased in Australia from 2016 to 2019, before dropping 2020. The latest report in March 2024 found that methamphetamine is once again rising although still lower than peak level in 2018-2019. However, it is unknown whether this increase was due to more people using the drug over time or a smaller number of people using larger amounts of the drug over time. It’s probable that the previous declines were due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus and the associated restrictions. It should also be noted that alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are consistently the highest consumed drugs across Australia. Secondly, the estimated drug usage from this program was variable depending on the different sites tested.

Are harms from ice use increasing in Australia?

When looking at population data it is difficult to separate harms specifically related to ice use from harms related to other forms of methamphetamine use. However, data from a number of sources indicate harms related to methamphetamine use have increased. The increase in reported harms most likely reflects the increases in regular and use, as well as shifts from using less (e.g. speed) to more potent (e.g. crystal) forms of methamphetamine. This has resulted in an increase in methamphetamine-related helpline calls, drug and alcohol treatment episodes and hospital admissions for methamphetamine use, , and other mental health problems, as well as methamphetamine-related deaths. For example, over the decade from 2010 to 2020, hospitalisations caused by amphetamine and other use in Australia have increased from 13 hospitalisations per 100,000 people to 70 per 100,000 people. This accounts for 27% of all drug-related hospitalisations (excluding alcohol and tobacco). It is important to recognise, however, that all drug-related hospitalisations (excluding alcohol and tobacco) account for less than 1% of all national hospitalisations.

The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (2022-2023), also found that people who had recently used were more likely to report a mental health condition and to be experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress compared to people who had recently used any other illicit drug (NDSHS 2023). 

Amphetamines were also the 2nd most common drug of concern in closed treatment episodes in Australian AOD treatment services in 2019-2020 and the principal drug of concern in 28% of closed treatment episodes for clients’ own drug use (AODTS NMDS). Methamphetamines specifically accounted for almost 4 in 5 amphetamine treatment episodes (AIHW 2021).

Learn more about what happens when ice is used with other drugs.

KEY SOURCES

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. (2024). National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, Reports 1-21. Latest report

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 December 2021 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2024). National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2022–2023. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/national-drug-strategy-household-survey  

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019: Key Findings. Retrieved from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/national-drug-strategy-household-survey-2019/contents/table-of-contents

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS). Retrieved from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol-other-drug-treatment-services/alcohol-other-drug-treatment-services-australia

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Australia’s health, 2018. (No. 16. AUS 221). Retrieved from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018/contents/table-of-contents

Degenhardt, L. , Sara, G., McKetin, R., Roxburgh, A., Dobbins, T., Farrell, M., Burns, L. & Hall, W. (2016). Crystalline methamphetamine use and methamphetamine-related harms in Australia. Drug and Alcohol Review. 36,160-170. DOI:1111/dar.12426

Degenhardt, L., Larney, S., Chan, G., Dobbins, T., Weier, M., Roxburgh, A., Hall, W., & McKetin, R. (2016). Estimating the number of regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia 2002-2014. Medical Journal of Australia, 204(4). DOI: 10.5694/mja15.00671

Sutherland R, Uporova J, King C, Chandrasena U, Karlsson A, Jones F, Gibbs D, Price O, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Bruno R, Wilson J, Agramunt S, Daly C, Thomas N, Radke S, Stafford L, Degenhardt L, Farrell M, & Peacock A. Australian Drug Trends 2023: Key Findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney; 2023. DOI: 10.26190/1tj1-8454

Roche, A. & McEntee, A. (2016), Ice and the outback: Patterns and prevalence of methamphetamine use in rural Australia. Australian Journal of Rural Health, 25(4), 200-209. doi:10.1111/ajr.12331

Page last reviewed: Sunday, 10 March 2024