Rediscovering The Disease Model: Australia’s Ice ‘Epidemic’

Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Image credit: Nikki Short

Recently, a combination of media attention and the imperatives of state governments and police forces have come to focus the public spotlight on methamphetamine, as it has done intermittently since the early to mid 2000s.

Today, the PM voiced support of plans to implement a national taskforce to combat the drug across Australia.

Two months ago, the West Australian ran a five day long front-page feature segment on methamphetamine use, sale and distribution in the city of Perth and the greater West Australian area, titling the segment METH CITY.

This notion of wild epidemic has always featured throughout aired debates and concerns over methamphetamine, the drug being treated under a disease model, labelled a “scourge”, a “plight”, an “outbreak”. This is by no means solely eminent in the West Australian area, either.

In 2014, the Burnet Institute’s Australian Drug Conference released a document under the association’s name urging policy makers and medical authorities to critically examine data and challenge the notion of an ice epidemic.

Similarly, the University of New South Wales released a case study titled ‘Making sense of Australia’s Ice Epidemic’, similarly addressing the functions of corresponding policy reactive to the presence of methamphetamine in Australian communities across the board.

The study highlights that the treatment of methamphetamine as an epidemic is only one dominant paradigm which has permeated since the early 2000’s. The study suggests that a multiple ‘stream theory’ be applied to the drug, stressing that the issue addresses unique concerns at the level of public harm, law enforcement, politics and policy.