TREAT OR ARREST: New Australian Crime Commission figures show more methylamphetamine users are being arrested than ever before.
TREAT OR ARREST: New Australian Crime Commission figures show more methylamphetamine users are being arrested than ever before. TOM COMPAGNONIAAP

Stop charging ice users, it’s no pandemic: expert

AN EXPERT in criminology has called for police to stop targeting drug users and to treat addiction as a health issue, after new statistics revealed more people were being arrested for drug possession than ever before.

The Australian Crime Commission found police had seized a record 27 tonnes of illicit drugs and made more than 110,000 arrests last financial year.

Almost three-fifths of all drugs seized were from Victoria, including almost 1.5 tonnes of amphetamines and 10 tonnes of benzaldehyde.

Australian Crime Commission CEO Chris Dawson said the benzaldehyde could have been used to produce 4.5 tonnes of meth.

"This equates to an estimated 45 million individual street deals, with an estimated value of $3.6 billion," he said.

Melbourne University Associate Professor John Fitzgerald said the figures could easily be misinterpreted to believe record arrests meant more people were using meth than in the past.

"The report doesn't necessarily tell us there's an ice pandemic - it mostly tells us what the police are up to," he said.

"When they surveyed the population, the actual number of people using ice is not increasing. It's actually lower than what it was in 1998.

"There's no doubt those people using it are using it more often, but that's different to saying it's a wide-spread phenomenon affecting a lot of people."

Prof Fitzgerald said the community needed to "calm down a bit" and realise the statistics just meant police were targeting the drug more than before.

"They're actually busting fewer clandestine labs, which means they're focusing more on users than suppliers," he said.

"Most people in Australia agree that it's better to treat drug users as having a health issue than a crime issue.

"Criminalising drug users to a greater extent doesn't fix the problem. It just clogs up our prison system.

"The more we talk about it, the better the outcomes. When we create fear, it makes it very difficult for users to have honest and open conversations."

The ACC said the purity of ice on the streets had increased consistently since 2010 and was now at its highest potency.

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