GPs key to breaking 'ice' epidemic

A Sydney doctor is urging fellow GPs to lead the fight against methamphetamines and help end the nation's devastating "ice" epidemic.

Dr Raymond Seidler, a doctor in Sydney's red light district of Kings Cross, will address a conference of colleagues, calling on them to be more proactive in identifying addicts and getting them into treatment.

"More and more young Australians are using stimulant drugs - particularly ice - and it is important for GPs to understand this phenomenon and to recognise patients who have used," Dr Seidler said ahead of his address to the General Practice Conference and Exhibition in Sydney on Saturday.

Statistics show that ice, also know as crystal meth, has overtaken heroin as the most popular drug in Australia.

"In the past decade the number of Australians who use this drug has almost doubled from 5.7 per cent in 1995 to more than 10 per cent in 2006," said Dr Seidler, who regularly deals with addicted patients.

He said it was vital all GPs take a drug history for their patients so ice abusers did not continue to fall through the gaps.

"Asking all patients under 50 about their recreational drug use is an effective way of screening for potential hazardous crystal methamphetamine use," the doctor said.

As they are on the frontline, GPs need to able to recognise the tell tale signs of addiction and common side effects like hallucinations, hostility, loss of appetite, rapid talking and anxiety.

"Some users will present with their distressed parents in tow, who will describe escalating aggression, insomnia and weight loss in their loved one," Dr Seidler said.

"The patient may request sleeping tablets or tranquillisers, may look gaunt and distressed and may often have serious skin infections."

GPs also were best placed to help coordinate rehabilitation but, said Dr Seidler, and being supportive while remaining non-judgmental was often a challenge.