Improving global prehospital and emergency medicine, public health, and disaster health care and preparedness

ICE: A Societal Disaster

Posted by: Joseph Cuthbertson; 4 May 2016; 10:39 pm

The impact of drug trade and usage upon society is rapidly increasing. In 2012, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported Oceania as having the highest global usage and trade of methamphetamine, also known as ICE1. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo has stated that, “Indonesia is in a state of emergency with regard to drug use.2” The Centre for Research and Epidemiology of Disasters defines a Disaster as 10 or more deceased and/or greater than 100 injured, and/or declaration by the country of a state of emergency and/or an appeal for international assistance. Utilising this definition and descriptors applied by UNSIDR3 the impact of illegal drug use and trafficking represents a contemporary, societal disaster.

The emerging impact of methamphetamines in Victoria has been labelled a crisis and led to the establishment of a workforce appointed by the incumbent government in response to a parliamentary report. The Victorian Police have publicly stated that ‘we can’t simply arrest our way out of this crisis. We need to get to the heart of the problem and listen to the experts who see the effects of this tragedy every single day.’ Additionally, like many commonly recognized disasters this impact extends across borders and countries, and disproportionally affects the vulnerable groups within communities.
Disaster risk reporting is primarily produced to identify who may be at risk (vulnerable populations) to specific events (cause).

There is a lack of discussion attempting to establish what the emerging disaster risks and consequent recognition of their potential impact. Possible reasons for this may include perceptions of these threats not being readily identifiable as disasters or fitting traditional descriptions of disasters. Nevertheless many of these emerging threats to health meet established criteria defining ‘disasters’ and as such, review of their emergence and impact is crucial for emergency managers to adequately respond. Whilst addiction has previously been identified as a causal factor of poor health, it is not construed as a risk factor within emergency management paradigms, and as a consequence the capacity to operationalise either addiction programs or trafficking action within this space is limited if not nonexistent.

The recognition of the complexity of illicit drug impact should be heeded as a call to collaborative action across professions to engage in action. Public Health practice has a unique and valuable skill set to offer, and should be engaged by leadership in this field.

  1. Schloenhardt, A., The market for amphetamine-type stimulants and their precursors in Oceania. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2007. 81.
  2. Indonesia in State of Emergency over Drugs: President, in The Bali Times. 2014, Lestari Kala Media: Indonesia.
  3. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009 UNISDR Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction. 2009.