The Effects of Illicit Drugs

The Rudd Government is targeting young people with hard-hitting television advertisements showing the devastating effects of a range of illicit drugs including ice, ecstasy and marijuana.

Spearheading the campaign is a graphic TV commercial, Don't Let Ice Destroy You. It is deliberately confronting and doesn't pull any punches.

In the ad a girl, her face scarred with lesions, picks at the scabs on her arms. In another scene a young man lies screaming in the grip of ice-induced violent psychosis, restrained by police and ambulance workers.

While this advertisement and others in the series are often brutally graphic - the television ad for ice is rated M - they are unlikely to be easily forgotten.

More importantly, all the advertisements are solidly based on the real effects and experience of illicit drug use - particularly methamphetamine use. The ice commercial was produced under the guidance of medical experts and police were also consulted.

As the campaign states and restates, the risks associated with these drugs are huge.

The extent of the problem was revealed in the results of a household survey by the National Drug Strategy, conducted in 2007. It found that 38.1 per cent of all Australians aged over 14 had used an illicit drug at some time in their lives. More significantly, 13.4 per cent had used illicit drugs in the previous 12 months.

One in three Australians aged over 14 years had ever used marijuana. Of Australians aged 20-29 years, 23.9 percent reported using ecstasy and 16 per cent had used methamphetamines, such as ice, at least once in their lifetime.

Ice is an incredibly addictive drug. Ice users risk drug-induced psychosis, including aggressive and violent behaviour.

Long-term ice users often experience significant deterioration in their physical health - teeth and gums are damaged; skin breaks out in lesions; strokes, panic attacks, anxiety and severe depression are all symptoms associated with use of this drug.

The Rudd Government's campaign also highlights the dangers of other illicit drugs, specifically ecstasy and marijuana. Ecstasy users often find it difficult to sleep. They suffer from extreme anxiety and nervousness, developing habits such as teeth grinding, sometimes to the point where the teeth become chipped and cracked.

Blood pressure in ecstasy users can be elevated to dangerous levels; they see things that aren't there, and can plunge into depression. In extreme cases ecstasy can cause thermal meltdown - the body literally overheats, causing organs to malfunction and fail; death from heart failure can result.

Marijuana users are at risk of psychosis, particularly if they are younger when they begin. Depression is another common symptom, while the breakdown of social inhibitions could lead to risky sexual behaviour bringing further health risks. Regular use increases the risk of respiratory disease associated with smoking, including cancer, as well as decreased memory and learning disabilities.

As well as bringing young Australians face-to-face with the harsh realities and dangerous effects of illicit drug use, the campaign also offers information on where to access counselling and support.

There are drug information services located in the capital cities of all States and Territories; also many services that operate in local communities throughout Australia.

There have been successes. Research has shown that the use of some drugs, including marijuana, has declined in the years since 2001, but there can be no relaxation of the effort and the new campaign will carry messages about the damage to physical health that illicit drugs can cause.

The risks are high, the dangers too great.

It need not be like that. Help is available, either on the internet at www.australia.gov.au/drugs or by calling the free national hotline: 1800 250 015.