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9 October 2018

International wastewater comparison shows Australia is a stimulant nation

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has today released the fifth report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program. In addition to reporting on national drug consumption, this report includes updated SCORE data which provides international consumption comparisons for a number of drugs monitored by the program.

Of the 23 countries with comparable data, Australia ranks second highest after the United States of America for total estimated stimulant consumption (specifically MDMA, cocaine, amphetamine and methylamphetamine).

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer, Michael Phelan APM said that much of the harm Australians suffer at the hands of organised crime is due to the trade in illicit substances and abuse of licit substances.

“Transnational serious and organised crime groups profit from importing, trafficking, manufacturing and selling drugs,” Mr Phelan said.

“Wastewater analysis provides a measure of the demand for a range of drugs. This allows governments to effectively direct resources to priority areas and monitor the progress of demand and supply reduction strategies.”

Using wastewater data derived from the program for August 2016 to August 2017, it is estimated that more than 8.3 tonnes of methylamphetamine is consumed in Australia each year, as well as more than 3 tonnes of cocaine, 1.2 tonnes of MDMA and more than 700 kilograms of heroin. For the first time this report includes a breakdown of these national estimates to the state and territory level.

While there is variation in consumption levels both within and across states and territories, there has been an overall decrease in the population-weighted average consumption of many of the drugs measured by the program from December 2017 to April 2018. Nationally, nicotine and alcohol remain the highest consumed substances of those tested. Despite decreases in methylamphetamine consumption between December 2017 and April 2018, most notably in South Australia and Western Australia, it remains the highest consumed illicit drug monitored by the program.

Of note this reporting period is the increase in fentanyl consumption, particularly in regional sites. Average fentanyl consumption in both capital city and regional sites in April 2018 were the highest levels recorded since the program began, with regional consumption more than doubling from April 2017 to April 2018. While fentanyl consumption measured by the program reflects both licit and illicit use, increased consumption is of concern as the high potency of fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose.

Sampling undertaken in April 2018 covered 54.8 per cent of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.8 million people. Forty-seven wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the collection of the wastewater samples, covering 12 substances.

For the first time the report includes ‘bubble maps’, which provide a visual representation of average consumption in capital city and regional sites for individual drug types. The graphics also include national consumption averages and European consumption averages where available.

“We acknowledge the expertise of the university staff involved in the program and once again thank the operators of wastewater facilities across the country for participating in this national program,” Mr Phelan said.

“As one of the only countries in the world where wastewater analysis receives full funding from the government, we are grateful to the Australian Government for allowing us to develop and share this valuable picture of drug use in Australia.”

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission received $3.6 million over three years from Proceeds of Crime funding to deliver the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program. The University of Queensland, and through it the University of South Australia, were contracted to undertake the data collection and analysis which underpins this report. A total of nine public reports will be released over the three-year period, with three reports released per annum.

The report is available from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission website: www.acic.gov.au

Last updated
9 October 2018