Meth remains Australia’s most dominant illicit drug, wastewater tests reveal

Meth remains Australia’s most dominant illicit drug, wastewater tests reveal

Methylamphetamine remains the most widely used illicit drug in Australia, the latest analysis of the nation’s wastewater has found.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) today released its 15th report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, estimating that 15.7 tonnes of illicit drugs were consumed by Australians in 2020-21.

Of the estimated drugs consumed, methylamphetamine was far and away the most widely detected (8.8 tonnes), followed by cocaine (4.7 tonnes), MDMA (1.2 tonnes) and heroin (984 kg).

Methylamphetamine was the most widely detected illicit drug in wastewater tests. (Shannon Morris)The estimated street value of the drugs detected was $10.3 billion, up from $8.9 billion the previous year.

ACIC Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said despite the increase in street value, the overall consumption of illicit drugs had fallen – leading to the conclusion that street prices of the drugs had increased.

“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,” Mr Phelan said.

“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.”

Wastewater testing covered 57 per cent of Australia’s population, an estimated 13.3 million people. (9News)When broken down by drug, methylamphetamine decreased to the lowest levels ever recorded by the program, as did the use of MDMA.

Conversely, consumption of cannabis was the highest ever recorded by the program.

Mr Phelan said wastewater analysis provided a near-instant snapshot into the data behind illicit drug use.

“Through wastewater analysis we gain insight into the serious and organised crime groups that supply illicit drug markets,” Mr Phelan said.

“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.”

MDMA was the third most widely detected drug in wastewater. (AAP)Curiously, the report found that while COVID-19 border restrictions did not have an immediate impact on drug markets, the accumulation of a range of pandemic restrictions saw the entire market reduce in size.

“The restrictions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, severely constrained these markets,” Mr Phelan said.

“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.

“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.”

The August 2021 collection of wastewater, which the report is based around, covered around 57 per cent of Australia’s population or around 13.3 million people.

For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to the Turning Point website.

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