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20 February 2019

Sixth wastewater report reveals Australians spend over $9.3 billion a year on drugs

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission today released the sixth report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program providing longer-term insights into drug consumption as the program concludes its second year.

Using wastewater data between August 2017 to August 2018, it is estimated that more than 9.6 tonnes of methylamphetamine is consumed in Australia each year, as well as more than 4 tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA, and more than 700 kilograms of heroin.

The street price of this quantity of these four drugs is valued at around $9.3 billion, underlining the size of the black economy that relates to illicit drugs alone. This estimated consumption reflects an increase in methylamphetamine and cocaine and a decrease in MDMA and heroin from year one to two of the program.

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer, Michael Phelan said analysis of wastewater data offers opportunities to address emerging problems, identify previously unknown drug threats and consumption patterns as well as the effectiveness of demand and harm reduction initiatives.

“It is astounding that Australians waste over $9.3 billion a year on drugs. This is money people could be spending on legitimate goods for themselves and their families,” Mr Phelan said.

When comparing data from August 2016 to August 2018, the population-weighted average consumption of methylamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, nicotine and alcohol in both capital city and regional sites increased, while consumption of MDMA and oxycodone in both capital city and regional sites decreased.

“This report reflects two years of data for most of the drugs monitored by the program and highlights the benefits and valuable insights that longitudinal data can provide,” he said.

“This includes the ready comparison of data across various reporting periods to assist to identify changes in drug consumption, both in the short and long term.”

The report covers 56 per cent of the population, which equates to about 13 million people, with 58 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participating in the collection of the wastewater samples, covering 13 substances.

For this report, wastewater samples were collected during the weeks of June and August 2018. To maintain treatment plant confidentiality, each site was allocated a unique code and site names are not included.

The sixth National Wastewater Drug Monitoring program report reflects a further evolution of the program and for the first time reports nationally on cannabis consumption.

Its inclusion in the program illustrates the variation in consumption that exists both within and between the states and territories, providing further insight into one of the largest illicit drug markets in Australia.

“Cannabis is one of the most used illicit drugs, both domestically and internationally, and its inclusion in the program provides valuable insights,” Mr Phelan said.

“In August 2018, there was apparent variation in consumption between the states and territories, with regional average cannabis consumption more than double capital city average consumption.”

The program also continues to evolve as wastewater data are increasingly being integrated with data from other government, private sector and academic sources to develop a more granular picture of drug markets and also activity in other areas of the Australian community.

“It is pleasing to see that wastewater data are now being embraced by an increasing number of external sectors and partners to inform their analysis of problems and their decision-making,” Mr Phelan said.

“I would like to thank the Australian Government for contributing the funding which made this initiative possible and to acknowledge the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission officers who contributed to the project.

“I also acknowledge the valuable support and specialist expertise of the University of Queensland and the University of South Australia, who undertook the data collection and analysis which underpins this report.”

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. 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

Notes to editors

In accordance with current wastewater analysis conventions, the terms of the contract, and to protect the integrity of the program, the exact locations are not able to be publicly released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. 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 are still able to be identified.

Last updated
19 February 2019