Pandemic restrictions helped lower illicit drug sales: ACIC

By Tom Ravlic

March 15, 2022

wastewater-sewerage
Wastewater analysis gives insight into the serious and organised crime groups that supply illicit drug markets. (Mulderphoto/Adobe)

Health orders put in place by governments across Australia to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus pandemic also helped lower the level of consumption of illicit drugs over that same period, according to the latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The ACIC report released on Monday is the 15th report that details the results of monitoring wastewater across Australia in order to understand the level of consumption of illicit drugs in various locations as well as the quantity of drugs consumed.

Methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin were the most frequent drugs detected in the monitoring program and it is estimated that 15.7 million tonnes of these drugs were used by Australians during the course of 2020-21.

Michael Phelan, the commission’s chief executive officer, said about $10.3 billion is the estimated value of the four drugs consumed during that year. This represents a jump from the $8.9 billion paid by Australians in the previous year. The commission attributes the increase in spending on these illicit drugs to an increase in the street price.

“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,” 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.”

Phelan said wastewater monitoring results hinted at periods when the usage of drugs dropped as a result of restrictions that involved stopping free movement within and between states.

“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,” 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.”


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