New study puts price on ice use for mental health sector

An economics graduate at Griffith Business School has estimated the cost of the ice epidemic on Australia's mental health system.
An economics graduate at Griffith Business School has estimated the cost of the ice epidemic on Australia's mental health system.

The cost of Australia’s ice epidemic to the country’s mental health sector is ‘conservatively’ estimated at $193 million a year, a new Griffith Business School study has found.

Thomas Massey, who graduated with an honours degree in economics, also established a profile for people most at risk of taking up ice.

He analysed the demographic variables of people who use methamphetamine, using statistics from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (AIHW).

“The most at-risk audience is aged 25-35 years old, single, living either alone or with flatmates, relatively uneducated and residing in major cities or rural areas,” he said.

“Those living in outer suburbs are less likely than those living in the city to take up methamphetamine. Furthermore, people living in outer regional and remote parts of Australia are significantly more likely to take up the drug.”

Who uses methamphetamine?

The economic study, which compared demographic data from 2013 with data from 2004, also found females are less likely to take up methamphetamine than males.

“Interestingly, income levels did not significantly affect the likelihood of an individual using methamphetamine. This indicates that it is not only individuals from a lower socioeconomic status who are at risk to the drug.”

TMsmallThomas Massey (pictured) analysed AIHW statistics and Medibank figures to estimate the financial burden that ice places on mental health services nationwide. Using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, he calculated a figure for Australia ($193 million) and for Queensland ($39 million).

“These figures do not consider other costs related to ice abuse such as physical health, crime, domestic violence or qualitative costs such as pain and suffering.

“In addition, users of ice who are in prison or in a mental health institute were not part of the estimations which relied on data from Australian households. It is possible, therefore, that the estimated costs are on the conservative side.”

Popularity of ice on the rise

The study also showed that both recent users and non-recent users of ice displayed moderate levels of psychological distress, estimating that recent use of methamphetamine was responsible for an 11.64% increase in psychological distress.

“This suggests that individuals consuming the drug are likely to suffer from underlying psychological problems stemming from demographic or social factors,” Thomas (26) said.

“We can expect these levels of psychological distress to increase as the popularity and purity of ice, the purest form of methamphetamine, also increases.

“The burden of methamphetamine abuse on mental health services will continue to grow unless policy makers can intervene.

“Promoting the message that ice has detrimental effects on mental health may discourage use of the drug among those considering taking up the drug for the first time, particularly young Australians.”