Highs and lows in drug consumption in latest wastewater monitoring report

Queensland has the highest regional MDMA consumption in Australia and the second highest of cocaine and methyl amphetamine, according to a report released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission today.

The analysis was part of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program led by The University of Queensland and The University of South Australia, and provides insights into the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Australian drug consumption.

The data covered about 56 per cent of the population, or more than 13 million Australians.

Queensland results:

(Comparing substance testing averages – April 2020 with December 2019)

  • Alcohol consumption decreased in capital city sites and remained relatively stable in regional sites.
  • Methyl amphetamine consumption decreased in capital city sites and increased in regional sites.
  • Cocaine consumption decreased in capital city sites and increased in regional sites.
  • Heroin consumption increased in both capital city and regional sites.
  • Cannabis consumption increased in both capital city and regional sites.

National comparison:

  • Queensland had the highest average regional consumption of MDMA and second highest average capital city consumption.
  • Queensland had the highest average capital city and regional excretion of MDA.

UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) Director Professor Kevin Thomas said the team had worked closely with ACIC and UniSA since the program commenced in 2016 to provide 11 publicly released reports so far.

“Our partnership provides a clear picture of drug consumption across Australia in what is one of the most advanced programs in the world,” Professor Thomas said.

“It also supports our capacity to rapidly react to emergent needs and has played a crucial part in successfully developing a wastewater-based early warning system for COVID-19.”

QAEHS researcher Dr Ben Tscharke said 55 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the April 2020 collection, including 12 in Queensland.

“To conduct the analysis, we use an instrument that allows us to separate the different chemicals to determine drug concentrations,” Dr Tscharke said.

“We can identify which drugs are present in the wastewater, accurately measure the level of drug consumption and pinpoint areas that have the highest consumption.

“We look for drug use patterns emerging over time and how drug consumption changes when seizures by law enforcement occur or drug use policies change.”

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael Phelan APM said restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted illicit drug markets and shaped results in this report.

“Results from this report underline the resilience and variety of regional drug markets in Australia,” Mr Phelan said.

“We continue to work with our partners to gain a more granular understanding of regional drug markets and drive appropriate responses.”

The report is available from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission website.

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