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Australia shifts focus to smash growing demand for ‘ice’

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Sunday unveiled a new Aus$300 million (US$220 million) strategy to combat the growing use of crystal methamphetamine, following a government report that Australia had proportionally more users than most countries.

The new funding marks a shift towards prevention and treatment in addressing the “ice” scourge, with Turnbull saying law enforcement efforts to tackle the illicit drug’s supply needed to be coupled with reducing demand.

“The responsibility for tackling this very complex problem can’t be left to the police alone,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney as he launched the final report from the National Ice Taskforce.

He said the new funding — based on recommendations by the taskforce to boost support for families, communities and frontline workers affected by ice use — would mostly be channelled to primary health networks.

“Proportionally, Australians use more methamphetamine, including ice, than almost any other country,” Turnbull said, adding that the use of ice had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 users in 2013, with anecdotal evidence of higher current numbers.

Consumption of the highly addictive drug in regional, rural and indigenous communities across the country had also risen, the report said, with the new funding set to improve access to treatment for users in remote areas.

The taskforce called for stronger intelligence coordination between states and territories and tougher security at air and sea ports to stem the influx of the drug, as international crime syndicates were attracted by the top dollar Australians pay for illegal substances.

“The enormous amount that we pay for ice here in Australia means that organised criminal gangs, literally from all over the world, have an interest in the Australian market,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said at the media conference.

“Mexican crime gangs, Iranian dealers, distribution networks from west Africa, and Chinese organised crime gangs as well, because we know that China is a very significant transhipment point for this drug.”

An Australian Crime Commission report published earlier this year found that while US$80 bought one gram of ice in China, users in Australia had to pay US$500 for the same amount.

Keenan said federal police were already working with China’s narcotics control bureau. Criminal intelligence officers were also embedded with their international counterparts in the United States, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates to pursue the criminal gangs, he added.

– AFP/freemalaysiatoday

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