Wastewater report provides an insight into Australia’s appetite for drugs


Wastewater processing facility

The seventh report from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program has been released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). The report shows data collected in December 2018 from 50 wastewater treatment plants in Australia, covering 54 per cent of the population or 12.6 million people, and monitors 13 substances.

Tobacco and alcohol remain the highest consumed drugs

Australia vs international estimates

As well as reporting on over half the population, the report compares Australia's estimated drug use with international drug use data.

The Australian wastewater data was compared with similarly available data from 25 countries and shows that Australians are the second highest users for the stimulants methylamphetamine (methamphetamine or ice) after the United States, second highest users of MDMA after the Netherlands and seventeenth in cocaine use.

Methylamphetamine [remains] the highest consumed illicit drug

Snapshot of Australian drug use

Compared with the collection in August 2018 which covered around 56 per cent of the population, the December report shows there was a decrease of approximately 2 per cent coverage, however the trends in the report are fairly consistent with the August findings.

As with previous results from August, this seventh report showed that NSW had "the highest average capital city and regional consumption of cocaine in the country".

Once again regional use of drugs such as tobacco, methylamphetamine, MDMA, oxycodone, fentanyl and cannabis is estimated to be higher than in the cities. Cocaine and heroin use is reported as higher in the city than regional areas.

The ACIC led report has noted an estimated increase in "the population-weighted average consumption of MDMA" in both regional and city areas and an increase in "the population-weighted average consumption of heroin in capital city sites". While the rate of use for these drugs is lower than other illicit drugs, the data appears to show those who use are using more, which if accurate signals a change that warrants some careful examination in upcoming reports.

Changes in NSW drug use

Comparing the results from the August report with the December 2018 report, the ACIC found the following changes in NSW:

  • Levels of alcohol, cocaine, oxycodone (pharmaceutical opioid) and fentanyl decreased in the city but increased in regional areas
  • Levels of MDMA increased in the city but decreased in regional areas
  • Levels of methamphetamine or Ice and heroin increased in both the city and regional areas
  • Levels of cannabis or marijuana decreased in both the city and regional areas
  • Levels of tobacco increased in the city and remained relatively stable in regional areas

This year the Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program received an additional $4.8 million to continue its work over the next four years, delivering three reports per year.

The full report is available at www.acic.gov.au.

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