Drug addiction is a problem throughout the world and does not discriminate between ages, skin color, religion or cultural background. In all nations, illegal and legal drugs pose a problem for health workers, law enforcement officers, schools, universities, workplaces and families. Substance abuse contributes to major social, financial, physical and psychological problems that affect many people, both those close to the addict and the wider social community.
In Australia, there is relatively small proportion of people who have used drugs. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, most people had never used an illicit substance (60 percent), while 14.7 percent of all Australian’s aged 14 years and over had used an illicit drug in the last year. The Drugs in Australia 2010 Report also estimated that, of those who have used an illicit substance:
* 10 percent had used cannabis
* 3 percent had used ecstasy
* 3 percent had used painkillers or analgesics for non-medical purposes
* 2 percent had used methamphetamines or amphetamines
* 2 percent had used cocaine
* 1.5 percent had used tranquilizers or sleeping tablets for non-medical purposes
* 1.5 percent had used hallucinogens
The statistics also reveal that only 8 percent of the population of Australia have ever had a drug addiction problem in their lifetime. Drug addiction is treated with a variety of medical, psychological and social treatments, which include the use of methadone and counseling services. Referrals to appropriate services are provided at most health centers or by medical practitioners, and financial support is provided by the government. Drug addiction is a recognized medical and psychological disorder, and appropriate anti-discrimination policies are in place to stop discrimination against current or previous drug users.
The frequency of use of drugs varies but the Australian Household Survey reported that the use of prescription medication or pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use was the most commonly reported drug used. Of those who reported to have used drugs regularly, approximately 47 percent had used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes more than once in the last month. Prescription medications pose many significant health problems when they are misused. They can have very dangerous interactions with other drugs, including alcohol, and can cause a person to have an adverse reaction when used incorrectly. Research suggests that women are more likely to use prescription medications for non-medical uses. This may be because women can deny that they have a drug addiction and find a sense of legitimacy from a prescription than an illicit substance.
The problem of opium and heroin is a major issue for governments and law enforcement. Heroin is considered to be one of the most highly addictive drugs with a large number of serious health and social consequences. Heroin is used by a small number of drug users in Australia partially due to the fluctuating prices, purity and availability of the drug. However, it has been reported that in 1997 there were over 70,000 heroin addicts in Australia, and that number was increasing. In general, drug prices in Australia are known to be high in comparison to those of other nations, which is due to effective policing and demand reduction policies that the government has in place. Additionally, Australia’s geographical situation acts as a buffer against illicit substances. This is a large island surrounded by large oceans. For drugs such as heroin or cocaine to enter the borders, drug cartels must incur significant trafficking costs.
The Australian government has relatively liberal policies relating to heroin addiction and is known to be at the forefront of progressive policies. In the 1990s, the first medically supervised injection center was established in Sydney as a move towards harm minimization and treatment of heroin addicts. The government recognized that drug addiction is a serious health problem that requires compassionate primary care responses. The safe injection house has been established for over ten years and provides injecting drug users with a safe and clean environment in which they can inject under supervision and have access and contact with nurses and health workers. In the event of an overdose, an addict can be immediately treated, and an overdose can be prevented. Drugs are not allowed to be bought or sold on site, are not available to purchase from the center and any criminal activity involving drugs such as dealing of drugs in the vicinity of the site is prohibited, with offenders prosecuted.
Opiate addiction is treated in Australia with a range of medical interventions, including medical detoxification and prescription of medications like methadone or naltrexone. Research suggests that there has been an increase in recent years as to the number of patients receiving maintenance treatment for heroin addiction.
Methamphetamine is a highly dangerous, addictive and damaging drug. This powerful stimulant drug has been increasing in use and manufacture in Australia and around the world for the past ten years. Statistics reveal that there has been a steady and regular increase in the drug being abused in Australia across all age groups. National data indicates that the supply and use of methamphetamine grew tenfold between 1996 and 2002 in Australia with statistics doubling since 2002.
Methamphetamine addiction is incredibly dangerous to the individual and the community at large. Methamphetamine addicts are often violent, paranoid, manic and delusional. The adverse consequences of using this drug over a long period are significant with users experiencing brain damage, seizures and convulsions, loss of memory, organ damage and heart attacks. Users will also suffer from serious family, financial and social problems including relationship breakdowns, loss of jobs, problems with money, inability to socialize and family issues. Some users turn to prostitution or property crime as a way to fund their increasing addiction.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Center in Australia estimated that in 2006 there were 73,000 methamphetamine addicts in Australia. For drug and alcohol workers and other medical professionals, methamphetamine poses a serious problem to resources and treatments in the health industry. Methamphetamine addicts often require round-the-clock care and observation, as many of them become psychotic when they are under the influence. Additionally, injecting drug users may have contracted infectious diseases like hepatitis or HIV, have cellulitis or meth-mites that require attention. Withdrawing from methamphetamine is incredibly painful and long lasting with many users repeatedly trying to get off the drug without success.