COVID-19’s meth surprise

The price of methamphetamine has skyrocketed in WA since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The COVID-19 pandemic may have had an unintended consequence on the state’s meth users, with many being forced to seek substitute drugs or addiction support.

Reduced supplies of methamphetamine in the state and the resulting quadrupling of its cost have spurred many users to seek alternatives, according to two experts with first hand knowledge of the situation.

Professor Steve Allsop from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute said the mixture of international and interstate border closures was to blame for the situation.

“If you’ve got drugs coming from overseas, they’re not as accessible,” he said.

“As far as we can tell from reports from consumers, the price went up, the purity went down and ease of access went down with the pandemic.”

Lina Pugh is the operations manager and founder of Bunbury-based drug support service Doors Wide Open. She claimed that with the price of methamphetamine rising since the start of the pandemic, some addicts have become increasingly desperate.

“This has resulted in the home baking of methamphetamine, an incredibly dangerous outcome, as it is made up of who-knows-what,” she said.

Professor Allsop said this type of behaviour was normal when drugs were in short supply, pointing to similar actions by illicit drug suppliers and abusers when the state’s heroin supply was limited during the Gulf War.

“They got various pharmaceuticals and changed them into a substitute for heroin, creating all sorts of problems,” he said.

While the short supply might be driving some addicts to go to extra lengths to get their hit, it has also resulted in many cutting back their use.

A recent report published by the Australian Institute of Criminology found the number of Perth Police Watch House detainees who have used the drug in the past month has declined by more than 30 per cent since the start of the year.

For organisations like Doors Wide Open, this has resulted in an increase in demand. An average of 35 people are now using the non-for-profit’s services each day. Ms Pugh said COVID-19 had presented both a challenge and opportunity for the organisation.

“Some had to detox at home without help, when methamphetamine was not available and the lockdowns were in place.

“However, we are busier than ever with people wanting to get well. This is an unexpected, yet fantastic outcome.”

Professor Allsop said the pattern at Doors Wide Open had been repeated across the state, with counselling and rehabilitation services seeing an overall increase in those seeking treatment, along with an increase in people showing up for their treatment.

He added the COVID-19 related restrictions earlier this year had played a part in the trend: “Some people would have gone ‘Oh gees, I’m going to have to stop’, they were worried about their health and they couldn’t get access to drugs, particularly during that time when it literally was a lockdown.”

While many methamphetamine addicts have already chosen to seek support, Ms Pugh said she believed there may still be more to come.

“The extra payments from the government, although with good intentions, for some of the users meant that they could afford the price rise of the product,” she said.

“The payments have now reduced but the price of methamphetamine remains high. I am interested to see how this plays out over the next few months.”