Young People & Methamphetamines in Australia

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that belongs to the amphetamines family of drugs.  It is probably helpful to note the terminology used in the context of this poster.  The term ‘amphetamines’ refers to the amphetamine family of drugs of which there are many drugs that come under this umbrella term, including dexamphetamine, amphetamine sulphate and methamphetamine (Connolly et al. 2006).  Up until the mid 1990’s the majority of amphetamines sold in Australia were amphetamine sulphate.  Due to changes in the market environment, methamphetamine emerged in Australia’s illicit markets in the 1990’s.  It is now believed that the majority of illicit amphetamines sold in Australia are methamphetamine (Mc Ketin 2007).

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Unlike amphetamine sulphate, methamphetamine is sold in a variety of forms (powder, base and crystal) and lends itself more readily to be smoked when compared to amphetamine sulphate.

What are the effects?

Intoxication Potential harms
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased:
    • Heart rate
    • Blood pressure
    • Body temperature
  • Psychological effects can include:
    • Euphoria
    • Elevated mood
    • Sense of well being
    • Paranoia
    • Heightened anxiety
    • Extreme mood swings
    • Disinhibition
  • Behavioural effects can include:
    • Insomnia
    • Teeth grinding
    • Impulsive and/or repetitive actions


  • Damage to oral health
  • Behavioural disturbances
  • Mood and affective disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Risk taking behaviours (e.g. drug driving, unsafe sex practices etc)
  • Overheating and dehydration
  • Dependence
  • Overdose
  • Risk of BBV transmission associated with injecting





Methamphetamines and Young People

The Australian National Council on Drugs (2007) identified a number of implications for young people regarding the shift in the Australian illicit amphetamines market from amphetamine sulphate to methamphetamine.  A combination of increased potency combined with a larger uptake of the smoking of crystal methamphetamine (often referred to as ‘ice’ or ‘crystal meth’) by young people, as opposed to oral or intranasal routes of administration has resulted in a higher prevalence of dependent presentations (ANCD 2007).  This is coupled with an over representation of young people who have engaged in recent use of the drug, when compared with the general population (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011, White& Smith 2009).

Is there a ‘meth epidemic’ amongst young Australians?

Relative to the prevalence of use and the harms associated with regulated substances such as alcohol and tobacco, the prevalence of use and the associated harms experienced by young people, due to methamphetamine is quite small.  While there was a spike in use of methamphetamines in the late 1990’s, prevalence of use has trended downwards in all age categories since that time.  This trending downwards is not congruent with an ‘epidemic’.  There remains however a number of issues of concern regarding methamphetamine use by young Australians.

The greater uptake of smoking ice rather than other non injecting routes of administration poses the following potential implications:

  • A greater number of young people moving from recreational patterns of use to dependence
  • A greater number of young people experiencing drug related harms (including dependence) due to greater levels of purity


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. Drug statistics series no. 25. Cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian National Council on Drugs (2007) Methamphetamine Position Paper Australian National Council on Drugs website, accessed 29th August, 2011

Connolly, K., Lee, N. & Clark, C. (2006). from GO to WHOA – Psychostimulants training program for health professionals: Train the Trainer Manual Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

Mc Ketin, R., 2007. Meth/amphetamine. In: J. Ross, ed. 2007 Illicit drug use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm. (2nd Edition).  Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. Ch. 5

White, V. & Smith G. (2009) Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2008 Canberra, Commonwealth of  Australia

2 Responses to “Young People & Methamphetamines in Australia”
  1. strayan says:

    You should make a distinction between methamphetamine[1] (which is a prescription medicine for children) and its street drug equivalent. Both of these are, of course, the same drug, it’s just that one of them is made in clandestine labs and sold by unqualified criminals and the other is not.


    • stonetreeaus says:

      Great point strayan. I am unsure whether the data I have examined makes this distinction. Of course regardless of the source both licit and illicit forms of methamphetamine can incur risk of harm, however as you quite rightly point out there is a heightened level of risk in relation to lack of quality control incumbent in the illicit production of methamphetamine as well as the risks of legal harms that may occur when sourcing methamphetamines illegally.

      Thanks for your comment



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