Australia’s toxic love affair with stimulants is in full bloom, driven by a relentless appetite for ice, samples from sewage treatment plants show.
The latest analysis of wastewater from 53 sewage plants across Australia has shed more light on the nation’s illicit drug habits.
And the news isn’t good when it comes to stimulants – most concerning the crystalline form of methylamphetamine, ice, but also record levels of cocaine and MDMA consumption in both city and regional areas.
Since the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission began testing human waste for traces of drugs back in 2016 there’s been an unrelenting rise in stimulant use, and the latest snapshot is no exception.
Australia now ranks third for methylamphetamine and MDMA use, among 30 countries with comparable data. And that’s sparked fears that such drug taking behaviour has been normalised in some sectors of society.
“There’s an increasing trend towards the consumption of illicit stimulants. There’s absolutely no doubt that Australia is an illicit stimulant consuming nation,” says Shane Neilson, the commission’s expert on high-risk and emerging drugs.
“And the methylamphetamine market is the lion’s share of Australia’s stimulant consumption. That’s not changed really since 2001, when heroin stopped being the primary drug.”
The wastewater testing program is Australia’s primary tool to determine what drugs Australians are taking.
The data it captures covers 43 per cent of the population, or about 10 million people, but the ACIC does not reveal the precise locations of the plants it tests.
Samples taken in December have been compared to data gathered a year earlier. While they show some differences in drug use between capital city and regional areas, there are many similarities.
Methylamphetamine use is up, yet again, in Australian cities and regions.
Both also saw record levels of cocaine and MDMA consumption, with the use of the prescription pain killer fentanyl, and nicotine, also up.
But heroin use and the consumption of another prescription pain killer oxycodone, were down.
There were some differences though.
Alcohol consumption was down in the city, but up in the regions. The opposite was true for cannabis, with use up in the city and down in the country.
Mr Neilson says Australia’s methylamphetamine problem has bridged the city/country divide and it must remain the highest priority for law enforcement agencies and health authorities left to deal with the damage caused by the likes of ice and speed.
“Even though we are seeing and detecting a significant proportion of that market, there’s more and more coming in,” Mr Neilson says.
“We fear that it may be becoming normalised in some sections of society.”
He said the war on transnational crime groups involved in the importation and domestic manufacture of ice must remain relentless but efforts to prevent people abusing drugs was just as critical.
“These drugs are illegal for a reason. They are very harmful and they’re not just harmful to the individuals taking them. Their families, their friends, and innocent members of the community also suffer.”