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Rising Living Costs Have No Impact on Australian Illicit Drug Consumption

Australia saw a fall in illegal drug consumption in the past year. However, the downward trend was unrelated to high living cost pressures, raising concerns about the impact of illicit drugs on household budgets amid tough economic conditions.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) has released the latest wastewater analysis, which collected data from 58 wastewater plants across Australia, covering about 14 million people.

Overall, the report found that Australians consumed over 14 tonnes of methylamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and methylenedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA) in the 12 months to August 2022.

While the figure represents a 10 percent drop compared to the previous year, the commission said it was likely due to drug busts, which limited the supply of several types of illegal substances.

The ACIC estimated that the street value of the illegal drugs consumed was around $10 billion (US$6.64 billion), with methylamphetamine accounting for 83 percent of the amount.

“This is a concerning amount, both in terms of economic cost–the actual expenditure on drugs—and the cost to the community–through violence, road trauma, property crime, illness, injury and deaths associated with illicit drug use,” Acting ACIC CEO Matt Rippon said.

“Reliable drug consumption data are a key indicator of the level of harm experienced by the community. This is because the level of community harm is directly related to the quantity of substances consumed.”

The Rise of Heroin and Methylamphetamine

Among the four most commonly used illicit drugs, heroin (3,385 kg) and methylamphetamine (9,018 kg) have become a growing concern as the consumption of these two substances climbed by ten percent and two percent, respectively.

In contrast, MDMA usage (723 kg) plunged by 41 percent, while cocaine (1,077 kg) saw a 28 percent drop in consumption.

The downward trend was driven by the falls in consumption in populous states such as New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

The report pointed out that prices were unlikely to be the cause behind the reduced usage of cocaine as the median national street price of a cocaine deal is less than that of a crystal methylamphetamine deal.

Since there was no evidence of a long‑term reduction in demand for cocaine and MDMA, the report attributed the decrease in consumption to limited supply.

In 2022, the ACIC estimated that 6 tonnes of cocaine were seized by authorities, which was around twice the amount consumed by Australians during the period.

Epoch Times Photo
Cocaine seized by the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce is seen in Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 30, 2017. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

At the same time, there was a drop in the production of MDMA as European crime gangs switched to methylamphetamine.

While the usage of illegal drugs in Australia is alarming, ACIC principal drug advisor Shane Neilson believed that the opioid crisis in North America might not reach the country.

“There’s organised crime involvement in that. There are people in various professions that are involved in the diversion of products to the illicit market, which of course, was a huge problem in the United States with fentanyl and obviously codeine,” Neilson said in comments obtained by AAP.

“There’s also a situation where individuals simply take the drugs they receive lawfully but use them illicitly either in whole or in part.”

Meanwhile, the report showed that nicotine and alcohol continued to be the most commonly used substances while ketamine and cannabis were getting more popular.

Additionally, the peak period for consuming illegal substances was in December due to increased activities of drug syndicates to meet demand during party season, as well as more opportunities for people to take them.

Drugs Usage Is Common Among Australians

Illicit drug consumption in Australia may be more common than many people think.

According to the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, around 43 percent of Australians aged 14 and above (9 million people) admitted having used a drug illegally at some point in their lifetime, while 16.4 percent (3.4 million) had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

While the figures were similar to those in the 2016 survey, there had been an upward trend since 2007.

The survey found that cannabis was the most illicit drug used in the previous 12 months at 11.6 percent, followed by cocaine at 4.2 percent and ecstasy at three percent.

As cannabis usage went up, there was growing tolerance for the substance in the community.

Around 41 percent of Australians aged 14 and above believed that cannabis should be legalised in 2019, up from 25 percent in 2010.

In addition, only 22 percent of the population supported legal action against the possession of cannabis in 2019, down from 34 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, one in ten Australians (10.5 percent) was a victim of an illicit drug-related incident in 2019, up from 9.2 percent in 2010.

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