Australia’s government has established a national taskforce to tackle growing use of crystal methamphetamine, or ice.
The taskforce will examine state and federal efforts to eradicate the illegal substance and identify ways to improve those strategies.
The move follows a March report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) that found ice posed the highest risk to communities of any illegal substance.
PM Tony Abbott said use of the drug was a growing problem around Australia.
“As a citizen and as a parent I am appalled at what is happening on our streets and in our homes,” Mr Abbott said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Ice is far more addictive than any other illicit drug. It does far more damage than any other illicit drug,” he said.
“The propensity for violence, the propensity to subsequent, very serious mental illness, the propensity to disfigurement which ice produces means that this is a drug epidemic way beyond anything that we have seen before now.”
According to a 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 7% of the Australian population aged 14 years or older have reported using amphetamine or methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime.
In the same survey, 2.1% reported recent use. These figures remain unchanged from those reported in 2010.
The reported use of powder methamphetamine fell significantly between 2010 and 2013 but the reported use of ice more than doubled. People are also using ice more frequently, with many people using it daily or weekly.
The crime commission report found that the purity of the drug available in Australia had increased over the past few years, making it even more dangerous.
It said the price of crystal meth in Australia was among the highest in the world, driving the country’s organised crime gangs to trade increasingly in the drug. More than 60% of Australia’s major organised crime figures now deal in crystal meth.
It said that, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the average street price per gram of methamphetamine in China is $80 (A$105, £54), whereas in Australia it is $500. Wholesale prices in Australia have been recorded as ranging from A$90,000 ($68,875, £44,450) to A$325,000 per kg.
The government hopes to develop a national ice strategy and to collate an interim report to be handed to Mr Abbott by the middle of this year.
The Labor opposition said it would support the government’s taskforce.