Drug group warns about over-reacting to methamphetamine abuse

A group which represents illegal drug users in Australia is warning authorities about the danger of adopting an alarmist approach in dealing with methamphetamine abuse.

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League have issued the warning following calls from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for more money to be invested in the health system to deal with methamphetamine users.

AMA National President, Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, says hospital staff are subjected to threatening behaviour and violence by methamphetamine abusers which imposes a strain on hospital emergency departments.

Dr. Capolingua says methamphetamine use is an urgent and pressing health problem that is creating a serious safety issue for health care staff who are increasingly being placed in harm's way.

The AMA plans to lobby both Federal and State governments for new funding to cope with the problem and to examine how methamphetamine users are dealt with by the health system and wants specialist drugs liaison officer placed in all emergency departments to support methamphetamine and other drug users.

According to Annie Madden from the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League, while she welcomes the AMA's call for funding, there is a danger in saying that most users are violent.

Ms Madden says most methamphetamine users do not become psychotic and to categorise all methamphetamine users as potentially violent discourages those who need help, from approaching the health services.

Ms Madden says most people use methamphetamine very occasionally and recreationally, and the minority who do have a psychotic incident usually do so after extended periods of binge using, not sleeping and not eating.

The AMA however says methamphetamine should never be referred to as a recreational, soft or party drug as it is a harmful drug with dependent users suffering serious mental health problems.

The AMA also wants a public education program on the social and health consequences of methamphetamine use, and investment in GP training to recognise and deal with the problem.

Experts say people high on methamphetamine and other drugs should be treated in designated areas of hospital emergency departments as they require the same level of care as psychiatric patients and need a safe, contained place with additional staff and security so that patients can be looked after appropriately.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug and comes in various forms, powder or 'speed' is usually of relatively low purity and can be snorted, injected or taken orally; methamphetamine base is a more pure substance and is usually injected; 'crystal' or 'ice' is methamphetamine in its purest form and is usually smoked or injected.

Many common cold treatments available from pharmacies contain pseudoephedrine which is the usual base source for the illegal manufacture of methamphetamines.

The AMA says there are approximately 73,000 dependent methamphetamine users in Australia - there are 45,000 regular heroin users.

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