Methamphetamine-linked deaths in Australia doubled from 2009 to 2015, a new study has revealed, in what researchers warn is a "major public health problem".
There were 142 methamphetamine-linked deaths in 2009 and 280 in 2015.
"Each of these deaths was associated with about 44 years of life [that could have been lived had the person not used methamphetamine] and I think that shows the impact," said professor Shane Darke, lead author of the study released today by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.
The average age in a methamphetamine-related death was 37, and the person was most likely (79%) to be male.
Nearly half of the 1,649 cases of meth-linked deaths in the seven years of the survey occurred in rural and regional locations, which Darke said was because the drug did not rely on overseas imports and could be manufactured on-site.
Overdose caused 43% of the deaths while suicide accounted for 300 of the deaths (18%) with specific characteristics around methods and gender, he said.
Studies of suicide in the general population have consistently shown that males predominately use violent means and females self-poisoning, Darke told reporters in a briefing for the study.
But most of the methamphetamine-related suicides involved violent methods, even for females.
“The impulsivity and disinhibition associated with methamphetamine intoxication may be a factor," he said.
Most people underestimated the impact that methamphetamine had on a person's heart, Darke said, noting that even modest amounts of the drug may provoke cardiac arrhythmia.
"Methamphetamine actually causes disease to the heart and to the coronary arteries," he said.
"It clogs the arteries around the heart and causes hypertensive damage and an increase in blood pressure; it is associated with a higher risk of stroke, particularly ones where the artery bursts and bleeds.
"With drugs like heroin you are rolling the dice each time you use it, but with a drug like methamphetamine, you are causing progressive damage each time you use it."
There were 245 deaths from traumatic accidents over the seven-year period, including 156 where the person was driving a car or motorbike.
"This is the tip of the iceberg because the [1,649 deaths studied] didn't show cases where someone using methamphetamine had caused the death of other people."
If you need to talk to someone, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636. Anxiety UK on 08444 775 774, or Hopeline America on 1-800-784-2433.
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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