Health workers are facing a new battle in the war against ice addiction, with severe mental illness complicating treatment methods.
Health workers are facing a new battle in the war against ice addiction, with severe mental illness complicating treatment methods. kaarsten

'If you continue to use, you will have a psychotic episode'

HEALTH workers are facing a new battle in the war against ice addiction, with severe mental illness complicating treatment methods.

Earlier this year, Queensland Health released its Methamphetamine Paper which detailed the widespread impacts the scourge ice has on users and the community.

One of the most concerning findings was that one in four ice users experienced psychotic symptoms in a given year and that the drug can also cause these symptoms in otherwise mentally healthy people, as well as exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

Hospitals are suffering too as amphetamine-related emergency department presentations sky-rocket around the state.

Methamphetamine-related hospital admissions for Queensland have risen from 133 to 3017 between 2009-10 and 2015-16 and the statistics for the Sunshine Coast aren't much better.

The Sunshine Coast Health and Hospital Service recorded 91 emergency department presentations relating to amphetamine use in 2014-15, this is up from 22 in 2009-10, according to a Queensland Health spokesperson.

 

Najara Community program manager Trevor Hallewell.
Najara Community program manager Trevor Hallewell. John McCutcheon

This rise, however, is consistent with that experienced by other hospital services across Queensland.

Narjara Therapeutic Community is a residential rehab centre in Nambour and is the closest port of call for Coast addicts seeking in-patient treatment without having to travel to the Gold Coast or Brisbane.

Program manager Trevor Hallewell, said the residents' cases had been getting more complex over the past four to five years, as mental health and drug use were becoming increasingly intertwined.

The majority of residents are dealing with amphetamine abuse, but a wide range of mental illnesses are present, according to Mr Hallewell.

"Most of our clients have complex multiple needs which means that they do have mental health issues and often those mental health issues require some intervention...," he said.

"One of the problems with hardcore ice use is that you can very often go into psychosis.

"A lot of the clients that come in here are also suffering from depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder.

"There have always been mental health issues around people coming into our services, but over the last few years they seem to be getting a little more complex."

However, Mr Hallewell said regardless of the substance a resident was abusing the focus was on their actions, not the drug.

"The treatment that people get is recognising they have a problem with chronically relapsing into a behaviour," he said.

"We treat addiction as the issue, not the substance."

 

COMPLEX CASES: Dr Donald Spencer is the clinical director of Sunshine Coast Drug and Alcohol Service in Nambour.
COMPLEX CASES: Dr Donald Spencer is the clinical director of Sunshine Coast Drug and Alcohol Service in Nambour. John McCutcheon

Clinical Director of the Sunshine Coast Alcohol and Drug Service, Dr Donald Spencer, said the link between mental health issues and drug use was particularly pertinent when dealing with ice abuse.

In terms of what comes first - drug abuse or mental illness - Dr Spencer said depression and anxiety often preceded drug use, but ice had the power to bring on severe mental health issues.

"People start self-medicating in their teens for their depression and anxiety," he said.

"We do notice that people self-medicate with varieties of drugs, cannabis, alcohol, methamphetamine for their major psychiatric illness just to feel better - but of course the effect of making their illness worse.

"If you're a methamphetamine user and you continue to use regularly, you will have a psychotic episode at some stage."

Ice has presented a unique challenge for the health community according to Dr Spencer, who said amphetamine users were "notorious for not staying in treatment".

"A very small proportion seek treatment and they don't tend to stay for long and part of that is the chaos that's caused by their drug use and sometimes it's the psychosis," he said.

"People with serious mental illness are often very chaotic and are difficult to maintain a relationship with and keep them attending long enough to do much about their drug use."

While only about 10% of Dr Spencer's patients are ice users, he said he'd noticed a changing pattern of drug abuse over the years with crystal methamphetamine use rising, but overall amphetamine use staying stable.

"What's happened of course is people are switching from other amphetamines to using methamphetamine and in particular using crystal methamphetamine and that's where the problems have arisen," he said.



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