Australians spending $10.3bn a year on illicit drugs according to ACIC’s latest wastewater report

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) today released the 15th report of its National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (the Program).

An estimated 15.7 tonnes of methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin was consumed in 2020–21, the fifth year of the Program. Consumption of methylamphetamine is still dominant, well ahead of cocaine, the next biggest market of the four major drugs.

ACIC Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan APM said the estimated street value of the four major drugs was $10.3 billion last year, up from $8.9 billion the previous year, due largely to general increases in street prices. Methylamphetamine accounted for 77 per cent of this expenditure. 

“We saw the second lowest annual consumption of the four major drugs since our national wastewater drug monitoring program began, yet the second highest spending by Australians over the same period. It is clear that Australians are prepared to pay top dollar to line the pockets of organised criminals, generating significant health and other harms to our community,” Mr Phelan said.

“Through wastewater analysis we gain insight into the serious and organised crime groups that supply illicit drug markets. Regular and near-real-time wastewater reporting enables the ACIC and our partners to detect and respond to increasing drug threats in a timely way and monitor the impact of responses.”

Report 15 provides a 12 month and five-year overview of drug consumption in Australia which includes years where there have been COVID-19 restrictions in place. The national consumption of methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin increased year on year in the first four years of the Program (2016–17 to 2019–20), followed by a marked reduction in total consumption in year five (2020–21). The drop of approximately 4.7 tonnes from the previous year’s levels, represents a 23 per cent decrease in overall drug consumption across these markets.

A key driver of the national drug market reduction over the last year was COVID-19 movement and border restrictions, law enforcement interventions and supply and demand. COVID-related border restrictions did not cause immediate major interruption to Australia’s drug markets, but wastewater data strongly indicates that the cumulative effect of these restrictions led to some substantial market interruptions.

“The restrictions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, severely constrained these markets. However, organised crime groups continued to find ways to supply illicit drug markets during the pandemic and to generate significant illicit revenue through this activity,” Mr Phelan said.

“Our report helps address harmful drug consumption through improving knowledge about these influences so that tailored supply, demand and harm reduction efforts can be developed and implemented by decision makers on a range of drug and public health issues.”

The latest report presents data on Australia’s drug consumption for 12 substances. The August 2021 collection covered around 57 per cent of Australia’s population—about 13.3 million Australians. Result of note include:

  • Consumption of methylamphetamine in capital cities and regional sites decreased in August 2021 to the lowest levels recorded by the Program, followed by an increase in capital cities in October 2021.
  • Consumption of MDMA in capital cities decreased in August 2021 to the lowest levels recorded by the Program.
  • Consumption of cocaine also decreased in August 2021, after which it increased in capital cities.
  • Consumption of oxycodone and fentanyl appears to have stabilised, but at low levels.
  • Consumption of heroin increased from April to August 2021, before decreasing in capital cities in October 2021.
  • Consumption of cannabis in August 2021 in capital cities and regional areas was the highest recorded by the Program.

The Program’s data continues to demonstrate the challenges facing different cities and towns and highlights the unique characteristics of local drug markets, forming a meaningful part of bespoke solutions for each region.

“We are improving our understanding of external factors that affect consumption of drugs and the resilience of the respective drug markets,” Mr Phelan said.

The report is available from the ACIC website:

Note to editors 

In accordance with current wastewater analysis conventions, the terms of the contract, and to protect the integrity of the Program, the exact sampling locations cannot be publicly released by the ACIC. To maintain the confidentiality of the participating site, each site was allocated a unique code to de-identify their results, however trends in particular states and territories can be identified.

Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.