Mental Health News

Amphetamine abuse the leading problem for people seeking treatment for drug abuse

For the first time, amphetamine abuse is the number one problem for people seeking treatment for drug addiction, according to Australia's largest rehabilitation service.

Sydney's Odyssey House has seen the lot over the years - the heroin usage of the '60s and '70s, and then the rise in the popularity of cocaine and powerful cannabis.

Ten years ago, heroin was the center's major battle. However, over the past decade amphetamine use has surged as the heroin supply dried up in Australia.

Now, the center's staff say the use of drugs like speed, ice and ecstasy has increased dramatically and the users are younger.

An annual snapshot of drug admissions at Odyssey House has found a third of people are seeking treatment for amphetamines addictions - a 10 per cent increase from last year.

"Amphetamines are cheap right now," the organization's chief executive James Pitts told AM.

"[Crystal methamphetamine] gives you a much longer impact as far as its effect, so they want it again."

Mr Pitts says the number of people being admitted for heroin addiction has been significantly reduced because overseas supply of the drug has been restricted.

"That has a lot to do with some of the interventions by the United States over in Afghanistan, who produces almost 90 per cent of the opium which processes heroin," he said.

"Because of the reduction in heroin availability, that amphetamines have replaced that."

Mr Pitts says amphetamines have contributed to a 168 per cent increase since 2003 in the number of people being admitted with a co-existing mental illness.

"When people are speeding, they don't sleep, they don't get any rapid eye movement sleep. It causes a lot of hallucinations, certainly some psychotic episodes in cases," he said.

"And then when people start to come down, of course, there's a lot of rebound depression. Certainly for people who may be already prone to depressive illnesses or anxiety or more serious mental-health issues, such as schizophrenia, it has a very deleterious effect."

VIDEO: Amphetamines now the leading drug addiction in Australia (ABC News)

Young mother hopes to beat addiction

Lavina, 22, hopes to be one of Odyssey House's success stories so she can be reunited with her four young children.

It all began when she started abussing alcohol and drugs when she was 13.

"When I was younger it was more of like a social thing; all of my friends were doing it. So I went along with the crowd, I guess. We used to smoke pot at school, and we'd also drink," she said.

This casual abuse of substances turned into full-blown addiction by the time Lavina was 20.

"I started using speed and ice. Look, my partner at the time was using it. You know, I was sick of arguing with him, and I think I just thought: 'You know, well I may as well just try it too'.

"It was something that was part of my life for a number of years.

"I didn't feel like I could really function or anything like that without it, but I was determined, and I had a lot of people back me and a lot of people supporting me in that terrible time, and it was my time to put my addiction to rest".

Mr Pitts says substance abuse is starting younger in Australia.

"When I first got into the business, 35 years ago, most of the time when you looked at the onset of someone's drug use it was at that time - you know, 18, 19 years old before people really got stuck into on a habitual basis," he said.

"Now that age has dropped down to 12 to 13, at even in 2003 it was 16 to 17 years of age."

Mr Pitts says alcohol remains a major issue for many patients.

"And the thing you have to understand with our population is that while someone may not nominate a particular drug of choice... alcohol is certainly prevalent across the board for whatever drug somebody nominates as their drug of choice.

"You've got about 70 per cent of clients list alcohol as one of their primary - one of their problem drugs."

Odyssey House has been treating Australians since 1977.


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