The Age Digital Edition: Drug treatment could help ice addicts

The Age Digitial Edition, July 17, journalist Aisha Dow

A world-first treatment for ice addiction could be on its way, with a new trial to examine if a drug used for paracetamol overdoses and cystic fibrosis could also ease methamphetamine cravings.

Known as N-Acetyl Cysteine, or NAC for short, the medication has shown promise in reducing the urge for a range of illicit and legal drugs.

But the need for a treatment for ice use is most pressing, as there is no approved medication for methamphetamine dependence. Instead , Australians in the grip of addiction are forced to wait for access to overstretched counselling services and residential rehabilitation.

The new trial will involve 180 people living in Melbourne, Geelong and Wollongong. Over 12 weeks, participants will take two tablets of NAC morning and night.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Rebecca McKetin from Curtin University said it was believed that when people became addicted to drugs, the balance of a chemical in the brain called glutamate was disrupted .

“That’s what we think underpins the drug-seeking , so people tend to go back and look for the drug, at the expense of other things in their life,” said Professor McKetin. “What NAC does is increases the glutamate in that part of the brain and it brings balance to that system.”

The researchers hope that if NAC can dampen people’s drug cravings, they will be better able to control their drug use.

While the new study is examining methamphetamine, it’s thought it could have a similar effect on a range of substances including cocaine , cannabis and tobacco.

“People who use like drugs like use meth, they don’t only just use meth. They use pot, they drink, they often use heroin,” said Professor McKetin. “So having a drug that has a generic action is really helpful.”

Health science student Juanita, who did not want to use her last name, used speed and ice in her 20s and 30s.

She said the drugs were so consuming when she was using them that she did not really understand what was happening to her.

By the age of 38, she was intensive care, staring down prison time. It took Juanita a year in residential treatment facility to rid herself of her addictions.

“Therapy and treatment will give you a bit of self-awareness , but really if you are in grip of the chemical and neurological addiction, it’s virtually impossible to get out of it.”

The number of Australians taking methamphetamines has reduced in recent years to about 280,000 in 2016. But the proportion of people taking the drug daily or weekly has climbed, to 20 per cent of that group of users.

The study, which also involves researchers from Deakin University and the Burnet Institute in Melbourne , is set to be completed in 2020, and could pave the way for NAC to be legalised for methamphetamine addiction. Those interested in being involved in the trial can visit

The Age Digital Edition