The Australian Crime Commission’s annual Illicit Drug Data Report
(IDDR) provides a statistical overview of illicit drug arrests and seizures and details the current situation, national impact and emerging trends related to illicit drugs in Australia and internationally. Outlined below is a brief snapshot of some of the key findings of the Illicit Drug Data Report 2012–13
, with a focus on amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) other than MDMA (‘ecstasy’).
Overall findings and trends
There was a record number of border detections of cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, non-MDMA ATS and several substances in the ‘other drugs’ category, particularly tryptamines (hallucinogens), anaesthetics and performance and image enhancing drugs (such as steroids and peptides). The weight of non-MDMA ATS and heroin detected at the border also hit new highs (cocaine, in contrast to the number of detections, decreased significantly by weight).
The total numbers of national illicit drug seizures and arrests have risen by 66.4% and 27.2% respectively over the past decade, with both reaching new records in 2012–13.
Cannabis continued to dominate Australia’s illicit drug market as the most widely used illicit drug, and accounted for the highest number of arrests and seizures nationally, with arrests the highest in the last decade. This mirrors trends in the global market, as does the continued increase in the prominence of ATS.
ATS drugs stimulate the central nervous system and increase the speed at which messages travel between the brain and the rest of the body. They include amphetamine (‘speed’), methamphetamine/methylamphetamine (‘meth’) and phenethylamines. The IDDR distinguishes between MDMA and other ATS for border detections, but for seizures and arrests only overall ATS figures are provided.
As indicated in Figure 1 below, border detections of non-MDMA ATS have substantially increased in the last year and over the last decade, with two spikes in weight.
Figure 1: Number and weight of non-MDMA ATS border detections
Source: ACC, Illicit Drug Data Report 2012-13, p. 29
Similar trends are apparent in national seizures for ATS overall, as illustrated in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2: National ATS seizures by number and weight
Source: ACC, Illicit Drug Data Report 2012-13, p. 49
Arrests of consumers accounted for 75% of total arrests in 2012–13, and appear to account for most of the increase in total arrests from 2010–11 to 2012–13 (Figure 3 below). SA was the only jurisdiction reporting more provider than consumer arrests in 2012–13.
Figure 3: Number of national ATS arrests
Source: ACC, Illicit Drug Data Report 2012-13, p. 50
In 2012–13, 86.1% of border detections were in parcel post, but these accounted for only 5.9% by weight, with 80.1% of the total weight detected in sea cargo. China was the primary embarkation point by weight, accounting for more than half the total, with Thailand, Hong Kong and Canada also prominent by weight and number (all but Thailand were also identified in the 2010–11 and
Of the 757 clandestine laboratories detected across Australia in 2012–13, 544 (72%) were producing non-MDMA ATS (compared to 552 of 809 (68%) in 2011–12).
The crystalline form of methamphetamine (‘ice’) is highlighted in the 2012–13 IDDR as a national concern due to the entrenched and evolving market, its relative accessibility and affordability, and its destructive side-effects. One of the Commission’s Executive Directors expanded on this in a radio interview:
… it's a really insidious drug in terms of the impact it has on people around the users … people can become paranoid, they can become very violent and there's been a number of instances over the last 12 months where meth addicted people have caused fatal car accidents, have been involved in attempted murders and very violent incidents involving others.
These concerns are shared by others working in law enforcement (including police in Victoria and NSW), drug and alcohol treatment and research (including several in Victoria and the director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre) and the judiciary.
General population surveys do not distinguish between types of non-MDMA ATS (moreover, the latest publicly reported data is from 2010) and the available data on methamphetamine and ice use in specific populations points to differing trends. Surveys of regular injecting drug users indicate recent methamphetamine use (within 12 months of the survey) remained stable at 66–68% from 2011 to 2013, and use of ice rose from 45 to 54% from 2011 to 2012, remaining stable at 55% in 2013. Surveys of regular ecstasy users indicate recent methamphetamine use (within six months of the survey) remained stable from 2011 to 2012 (60 and 61% respectively), dropping to 50% in 2013. Use of ice rose from 26 to 29%, then dropped to 23% over the same period.
User perceptions about availability remain reasonably stable. The percentage of regular injecting drug users reporting ice as easy or very easy to obtain for 2011, 2012 and 2013 was 83, 84 and 88% respectively, with the equivalent percentage of regular ecstasy users 86, 90 and 88%.
Information on purity is unavailable, but as indicated in Figure 4 below, all states and territories reported increased median purity of analysed methamphetamine samples in 2012–13, with Victoria reporting the highest in the last decade.
Figure 4: Median purity of analysed methamphetamine samples
Source: ACC, Illicit Drug Data Report 2012-13, p. 45
Based on an exploratory study from July 2010 to June 2012 using multiple indicators of harm (such as ambulance call-outs), a group of drug and alcohol researchers has argued that there has been an increase in ATS and specifically ice-related harms in Victoria. A Victorian parliamentary inquiry into methamphetamine use in that state is due to report by 31 August 2014.