Fewer than half of Australia's methamphetamine deaths are overdoses - study

Methamphetamine kills. Photo credit: Getty

Deaths in Australia linked to meth use have doubled in just six years, and researchers believe the statistics are hiding the true scale of the problem.

Between 2009 and 2015 there were at least 1649 meth-related deaths across the ditch, Australia's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reported on Monday.

Of those:

  • 43 percent died due to an overdose
  • 22 percent from diseases caused by the drug
  • 18 percent by suicide linked to meth use
  • 15 percent by accidents, most of them in vehicles
  • 1.5 percent killed in meth deals gone wrong.

"It's a tip of the iceberg - it's not showing cases where methamphetamine use has caused the death of others, for instance in a motorcycle accident," said Prof Shane Darke, noting that meth users are between three and six times more likely to die at any time than the general population.

Men made up 78 percent of the deaths, and the average age at death - 37 - proves it's a myth users eventually grow out of the deadly drug, he says.

Another unexpected finding from the research was that 34 percent of users were employed - much higher than similarly destructive drugs like heroin, where fewer than 10 percent of users have jobs.

Also, the 300 recorded suicides by meth users were mostly through violent means, which Prof Darke, blamed on the "impulsivity and aggression" meth causes in users.

The number of annual deaths began rising about a decade ago, the research found, posting a massive leap between 2011 and 2012. The annual toll has remained around 300 a year since then.

"I hear it occasionally said we're overstating the extent of the problem," says Prof Drake.

"If we can identify this many cases over a seven-year period of young Australians, we have a major public health problem."

The report comes after Newshub revealed police seized twice as much meth in 2016 as any year before, despite the Government's years-long "war" on the drug.

Ministry of Health statistics suggest use has actually declined - around 1.1 percent of the population, down from 2.7 percent in the early 2000s.

Data on New Zealand's meth-related deaths was not immediately available. Newshub has requested information from the Ministry of Health.