The Australian Government has released its annual Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) which shows an alarming spike in the number of drug hauls and arrests, as well as drug use in a number of categories.
Drug seizures are up more than 13% and drug arrests are up almost 20% on figures from last year.
But while cannabis remained the most frequently confiscated drug in Australia, the number of heroin-related arrests fell to their lowest level in a decade.
Numbers from around the nation
The report shows that the highest number of arrests were for cannabis at 56.1%. In second place were amphetamine-type stimulates (ATS) particularly ‘ice’, at 26.5%.
South Australia had the highest proportion of arrests related to cannabis at 85.4%.
In Victoria, the proportion of ATS arrests was higher than any other state at more than 37%, and Victoria also recorded the highest proportion of heroin and other opioids at 4.8 %.
New South Wales recorded the highest percentage of cocaine arrests at 3.8%, while in Western Australia, 23.7% of drug arrests were related to “other and unknown” drugs.
Overall drug arrests have increased significantly over the past decade.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the numbers equated to 290 seizures and 367 arrests per day.
The report is released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). It is compiled from law enforcement data, and is said provide a “clear snapshot of illegal drug use and supply in Australia” in order to help guide resources and funding aimed at combating the issue.
Waste water testing – the government’s new weapon
This year for the first time, the report incorporated data extracted from waste water analysis, (sewerage testing) which showed that ice use in the community has increased significantly since 2010.
Minister Keenan claims waste water testing will help police to locate illegal clandestine laboratories, and “will help us identify which drugs are being supplied and which drugs are increasing or decreasing in usage.”
Mr Keenan pointed out that the ice taskforce recommends greater use of waste water testing. In the past, drug users themselves were the main source of information about the prevalence and location of drug labs. But wastewater testing suggests that such data is wildly inaccurate, with usage dramatically under-reported, which is no surprise given that drug possession is still a crime in Australia.
Indeed, the waste water data supports what drug reform experts have suspected – that methamphetamine use is on the rise.
Professor Jason White of the University of South Australia, a state where a lot of the waste water testing has been conducted, estimates there has been a greater than three-fold increase in the use of methamphetamines over the past five years.
The government recently announced that it will invest an extra $3.6 million towards waste water testing, hoping to localise testing to such an extent that the location of labs will be easier to determine.
Australia an ‘attractive market’ for drug suppliers
ACIC says that because Australia is isolated, it is an attractive market for drug enterprises.
It believes organised crime and transnational crime groups continue to be the main players in the market.
Decriminalisation not on the agenda
Mr Keenan said that despite the prevalence of drug use in Australia, and the success of decriminalisation in some other countries, moving away from a punitive approach towards drug use is not on the agenda here. He added that neither are tougher penalties for drug offences.
Keenan said he believes there is a need to continue to educate Australians on the detrimental effect drug use on their physical and mental wellbeing.
In line with that strategy, Federal Government made its most significant investment ever in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Australia’s history last year.
Keenan said he is hopeful that over time, “that multi-faceted approach will pay dividends.”