National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program continuing to build the picture of drug use in Australia

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) has officially extended its collaboration with the University of Queensland, and through it the University of South Australia, to deliver the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP).

The ACIC received an additional $4.8 million over four years in the 2019 Budget to fund the NWDMP until June 2023, building the program’s longitudinal data and delivering an additional twelve public reports.

Today ACIC Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael Phelan APM and Professor Christina Lee, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences at The University of Queensland signed a contract extending their involvement in the NWDMP for a further four years. This enables The University of Queensland, and through it the University of South Australia, to continue to undertake the data collection and analysis underpinning the program.

Mr Michael Phelan APM said that much of the harm that Australians suffer at the hands of organised crime is due to the illicit drug trade. By measuring the level of consumption of illicit drugs and legal drugs with abuse potential, the NWDMP provides a key indicator of the level of harm posed by these substances.

“Extending this valuable program to provide a further four years of drug consumption data will enable law enforcement, policy, education, regulatory and health agencies to build a more comprehensive picture of drug use in Australia,” said Mr Phelan.

“The extension of the program will assist in identifying distinct changes in drug consumption at national, state and territory, capital city and regional and individual site levels.

“This will be invaluable in the long term and create opportunities to inform, shape and measure responses to the demand and supply sides of the illicit drug market, particularly in high-use areas, and inform harm reduction strategies,” said Mr Phelan.

At the signing, the ACIC also released the eighth report of the NWDMP, providing greater insight into drug consumption in Australia.

This report covers 55 per cent of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.9 million people. Fifty-two wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the April 2019 collection, which monitored the consumption of 13 substances.

Analysis of wastewater data has enabled the ACIC to estimate the annual national consumption of methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin in Australia. Report eight includes a comparison of these consumption estimates with related national seizures in 2017–18.

The eighth report reveals that of the drugs measured with available dose data, nicotine and alcohol remain the most consumed drugs, with methylamphetamine the most consumed illicit drug.

There were also reported decreases in the population-weighted average consumption of oxycodone, fentanyl and cannabis in both capital and regional sites from December 2018 to April 2019. The population-weighted average consumption of methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin in capital city and regional sites increased over the same period, and with the exception of regional average heroin consumption, are at the highest levels recorded by the program.

The ACIC would like to acknowledge the valuable support and specialist expertise of the University of Queensland and the University of South Australia, which provide the NWDMP with leading-edge, coordinated national research on illicit and licit drugs and the wastewater treatment plant operators which provide invaluable contributions to the program.

“We have worked closely with the universities since the program commenced in 2016 and the release of the first report in March 2017. This has continued through the release of a further seven reports, soon to be nine in total, across the first three years of the program,” Mr Phelan said.

“The ACIC looks forward to continuing this strong partnership for a further four years and the valuable insights it will bring into illicit drugs and legal drugs with abuse potential.”

The eighth report is available from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission 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 site locations are not able to be publicly released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. To maintain the confidentiality of participating sites, each site is allocated a unique code to de-identify their results, however trends in particular states and territories are still able to be identified.