Australian Institute of Criminology

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The term amphetamines covers several similar substances including amphetamine sulphate, dexamphetamine and methamphetamine.

Amphetamines are produced from an oil base but may be found in a number of forms. The most common is for the oil to be converted into a powder. The powder may be made into capsules or tablets. Methamphetamine may appear as rock-like crystals or as a liquid. Methamphetamine, although structurally similar to amphetamine, is more pure and longer lasting. Occasionally a very high purity gel or putty like substance can be produced. Amphetamine is often "cut" with adulterants such as sugar, glucose or ephedrine.

Amphetamines are psychostimulant drugs and their primary effect is to speed up the activity of the brain and nervous system. The user's heart and breathing rate increase and they may experience increased energy, alertness and confidence. Appetite may be suppressed and they may become talkative and excited.

The less sought after effects include heart palpitations, anxiety and irritability. At higher doses, amphetamine can cause irregular heartbeat, headaches, dizziness and panic attacks.

Long term, heavy amphetamine use can lead to insomnia and malnutrition. Psychological and emotional problems such as depression, paranoia and extreme aggressiveness can develop. In some cases, users may experience amphetamine psychosis - a psychological state, similar to schizophrenia - characterised by paranoid delusions. Amphetamine overdose can cause stroke, heart attack, seizure, coma or death.

Amphetamines can be injected, snorted, smoked or taken orally.

Excluding some amphetamine-based drugs which are available on prescription for medical conditions such as narcolepsy and hyperactivity, the possession, use, manufacture and distribution of amphetamines is illegal throughout Australia, as is its importation.

Many states have restricted access to the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamines and their importation is strictly controlled.

In a 2004 survey, more than 9% of Australians aged 14 and over indicated they had used amphetamines at some stage in their lifetime and 3% had used amphetamines in the past 12 months. According to the Australian Crime Commission, there is an increase in the number of young recreational drug users smoking crystal methamphetamine. Research also indicated an increase in use of methamphetamine, which occurred around the same time as the heroin shortage in Australia in 2000-01.

The majority of amphetamines consumed in Australia is produced in this country in clandestine laboratories. Some of the laboratories located by police have been highly mobile, sometimes contained within a car boot. Due to the highly toxic and volatile nature of the chemicals used in amphetamine production, these laboratories present a considerable risk to the public. Methamphetamine is reported as the most common amphetamine-type to be produced in Australia due to the easier accessibility of the precursor chemical pseudoephedrine compared with other amphetamine-type precursors. A common source of pseudoephedrine is Sudafed.

Generally the product is consumed on the local market, however some inter-state distribution occurs. Outlaw motorcycle gangs are believed to be heavily involved in the production and distribution of amphetamines, often in cooperation with ethnic based organised crime groups.

Amphetamines are readily available on the drug market in most areas of Australia. Purity levels vary markedly from 1% to 99% pure. According to the Australian Crime Commission, the median purity of amphetamines seized and analysed in 2004/05 varied across Australia, ranging from 1% to 78% - however it should be noted that these figures are not drawn from a representative sample as not all amphetamines seized by Australian law enforcement agencies are subjected to forensic analysis.

Table 1 : Common or street names for ATS
ATS Selection of common (street) names
amphetamine Speed, whiz, uppers, goey, louee
dexamphetamine (ADHD medication used illicitly) Kidi-speed, whiz, uppers, dexies, pep pills
phentermine (Illegally imported weight loss medication used illicitly) Adipex-p or fastin
methylamphetamine (solid) Meth, speed, whiz, fast, uppers, goey, louee, rabbit, tail, pep pills, base, pure, point or wax.
methylamphetamine (liquid) Leopard's blood, ox blood, red speed or liquid red
crystal methylamphetamine Ice, meth, d-meth, glass, crystal, batu, shabu (from the Philippines)
paramethoxyamphetamine Death, PMA, PMMA (often mixed with or marketed as ecstasy, all are known to be fatal)