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April 06 2017

The use of methamphetamine or ‘ice’ in South Australia has doubled in the past four years, with the latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report showing there were more than 500 standard doses of methamphetamine each week per 1,000 people in December 2016.

The long term effects of this steady increase in the use of methamphetamine are not yet known but research has revealed a concerning similarity between the brains of young methamphetamine users and older people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

To try and find some answers the Fay Fuller Foundation is investing more than $230,000 in UniSA Senior Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Medical SciencesDr Gabrielle Todd, and her colleagues’ investigations into the long-lasting effects of methamphetamine (‘ice’) on the brain regions that control movement.

“Brain scans show that the appearance of a movement-related brain region, called the substantia nigra, is abnormally bright and enlarged in methamphetamine users and in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” Dr Todd says.

“The abnormality is a well-established risk factor for Parkinson’s disease and is used to help diagnose the disease in other parts of the world so it’s very concerning to see this abnormality in young people that use methamphetamine.

“Of even greater concern, is that young methamphetamine users already show changes in the way that they move, and some of these changes resemble those that occur with Parkinson’s disease.”

Young methamphetamine users may have no idea about the long-lasting health consequences of their drug use.

“The risk is not just related to heavy methamphetamine use, we are seeing movement and brain changes in young people who may have only taken the drug as few as five times,”Dr Todd says.

“Knowledge is a powerful tool and raising awareness about the link between methamphetamine use and the way that we move may help discourage young people from using this drug.”

The project outcome will be a new evidence-based, ready-to-use health message that increases community knowledge of the long-lasting consequences of methamphetamine use, changes attitudes towards methamphetamine, and discourages use of the drug in young people. This will be achieved with a four step approach:

Step 1: Measure existing knowledge of and attitudes to the long-lasting consequences of methamphetamine use on health.

Step 2: Measure the types of movement changes that occur as a result of use of methamphetamine and how common these changes are among methamphetamine users.

Step 3: Create the new health message to inform young adults about the long-lasting consequences of methamphetamine use on movement, in collaboration with drug and alcohol treatment service providers, researchers that specialise in methamphetamine-related harm and prevention, Parkinson’s South Australia, and a marketing and communications company.

Step 4: Test the effectiveness of the new health message in improving knowledge about the long-lasting consequences of methamphetamine use.

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