The number of methamphetamine-related deaths in Australia doubled between 2009 and 2015 with heart disease and violent suicide identified as prominent causes of death, a study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has found.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, analysed 1649 cases of methamphetamine-related death retrieved from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and found that in a fifth of cases (22%) death was attributed to natural disease in conjunction with methamphetamine toxicity.
The most frequent natural disease was cardiac and/or cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Lead author UNSW Professor Shane Darke said these results are indicative of a major public health issue and highlight a hidden problem.
“To see such large and significant increases in mortality rates over the study period indicates a major methamphetamine problem.
“With so much public attention focused on violence, many users may be unaware that heart disease is a major factor in methamphetamine-related death.
“Without increased awareness of the connection between methamphetamine use and cardiac and/or cardiovascular disease we could expect to see a significant increase in cases of this kind in the coming years,” Professor Darke said.
Suicide accounted for 300 methamphetamine-related deaths (18%) with specific characteristics around methods and gender.
“The impulsivity and disinhibition associated with methamphetamine intoxication may be a factor," Professor Darke said.
“Health professionals need to be aware of the prominent role of violent suicide and take appropriate steps to monitor methamphetamine users.”
Other findings of the study include:
Nearly half of cases occurring in rural and regional locations.
The most common manner of death (43%) is accidental drug toxicity.
Even modest amounts of methamphetamine may provoke cardiac arrhythmia.
There were 245 deaths from traumatic accidents, including 156 where the person was driving a car or motorbike.
Methamphetamine is a major public health problem of increasing significance, of which death represents the most severe end.
If the information in this article has raised concerns for you or someone close to you, help is available from the following services:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467