Increasing numbers of teenagers as young as 16 are becoming social smokers of the stimulant drug ice, as they look for alternatives to the party pill ecstasy.
The latest monitoring of ecstasy users by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has found that young people are smoking ice with their friends as drug syndicates deliberately seek a younger market.
The Australian National Council on Drugs said yesterday it was concerned the syndicates were shifting their business base away from heroin to the equally addictive ice.
"We underestimate the marketing ability of illicit drug manufacturers. Theyre targeting younger people. Were seeing this in Asia with young, affluent people," said council chief executive Gino Vumbaca.
The demand has prompted drug syndicates to convert industrial factories overseas to produce the drug in massive quantities. Australian authorities were recently involved in investigating the biggest such operation so far uncovered - a converted shampoo factory capable of producing 60kg of ice a day worth $2.7million.
Australian Federal Police took part in the operation in Malaysia in June and found the 21 people arrested were using a relatively new recipe that enabled them to make the drug from freely available chemicals.
"Its the largest clandestine laboratory that we know of globally," AFP acting national manager of border and international Tim Morris said. "There are links to this seizure to all around the Asia Pacific region. Its reasonable to conclude that some of the product would have found its way into the Australian market."
The bust netted about half a tonne of finished and partly processed ice as well as 80,000 ecstasy tablets. The AFP sent chemists and federal agents to Malaysia after the bust to comb the facility for intelligence and clues to other operations.
Mr Morris said ice was becoming one of the most prevalent drug types the AFPs overseas officers were dealing with.
In Australia the picture was becoming grimmer with the highly-addictive drug becoming attractive to a young, affluent party set who were taking it with friends as an alternative to ecstasy.
Monitoring of users by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has found that increasing numbers of young people aged 16 to 25 are smoking ice as a social way of taking the drug.
Senior research fellow Rebecca McKetin said methamphetamine as a drug class was now second only to cannabis in its use among young people in Australia.
"Smoking ice has become popular with young drug users," she said.
"The emergence of ice has been accompanied by a noticeable shift in the demographic.
"Its a pretty young group of drug users. They take ecstasy, smoke pot and theyre starting to take ice.
"The thing about smoking ice is its much more addictive and a lot of young people are naive to the addictive tendency of ice."
The United Nations and the Australian National Council on Drugs will release reports today detailing the spread of the drug across the Asia Pacific and the health risks, particularly HIV and AIDS.
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