Emerging trends and concerns

  • In 2012-2013, the number and amount of amphetamine-type substances (ATS) seizures (excluding ecstasy-type substances) at the Australian border increased and were the highest on record. The number and amount of national in-country ATS seizures (excluding ecstasy-type substances) also increased in 2012-2013 and were the highest on record.
  • High numbers of clandestine laboratories, most of which were manufacturing methamphetamine, have been detected in Australia in recent years. The number of laboratories detected in in 2012-2013 was the second highest since records began.
  • The weight of methamphetamine and MDMA precursor detections at the Australian border decreased in 2012-2013 while the number of detections of precursors for ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) increased and was the highest reported in the last decade.

Overview of the drug situation

ATS, excluding ecstasy-type substances, continue to be the second-most widely used illicit drug in Australia. However, the use of methamphetamine is indicated to have stabilized. Historically, the ATS market (excluding ecstasy-type substances) in Australia has been primarily supplied by the domestic manufacture of amphetamine and methamphetamine. However, domestic and transnational organized crime groups continue in their attempts to illicitly import large quantities of ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) and their precursor chemicals into the country. The entrenched and evolving market for the manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine, particularly crystalline methamphetamine, is currently a national concern.

Cannabis remains the dominant illicit drug in Australia in terms of arrests, seizures and use, with the number of national cannabis seizures and arrests in 2012-2013 the highest reported in the last decade.

In 2013, there was no significant increase in the prevalence of use of ATS excluding ecstasy-type substances (2.1%) in the Australian population aged 14 years or older. However, there was a change in the primary form of amphetamine and methamphetamine used. The reported use of methamphetamine powder, often referred to as ‘speed’, decreased significantly among recent3 users aged 14 or older, from about 51% of users in 2010 to 29% in 2013. During the same period, the proportion of recent users reporting crystalline methamphetamine as the main form of methamphetamine used in the past 12 months doubled, from approximately 22% of users in 2010 to 50% in 2013. In addition, there was a significant increase in the proportion of persons reporting use of ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) daily or weekly (from 9.3% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2013), particularly among crystalline methamphetamine users (from 12.4% in 2010 to 25.3 in 2013. The proportion of the general population reporting ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) use at least once in their lifetime remained stable at 7.0%.

Table 1. Trend among the general population in recent use of selected drugs in Australia, 2001-2013

Recent ecstasy use reported in the general population decreased from 3.0% of users in 2010 to 2.5% in 2013. However, the proportion reporting ecstasy use at least once in their lifetime increased slightly, from 10.3% in 2010 to 10.9% in 2013.

Reported cocaine use in the Australian population aged 14 years or older remained stable at 2.1%. However, the proportion reporting cocaine use at least once in their lifetime continued to increase, from 7.3% in 2010 to 8.1% in 2013.

The proportion of drug treatment episodes for which amphetamines were the principal drug continued to increase in 2012-2013. There were 162,362 treatment episodes reported in 2012-2013 for clients seeking treatment for alcohol and other drug problems in publicly funded and non-government drug treatment facilities in Australia. Of these, 68% were men. Amphetamines were the principal drugs of concern in approximately 14% of treatment episodes, marking an increase over the three previous reporting periods (11% in 2011-2012, 9% in 2010-2011 and 7% in 2009-2010). In 45% of the episodes where amphetamines were the principal drug, clients reported that the most common method of use was injecting, followed by smoking (35%). Persons aged 20-39 years accounted for three-quarters (75%) of amphetamines treatment episodes. Ecstasy was the principal drug of concern in less than 1% of treatment episodes. The proportion of treatment episodes for cannabis use increased slightly to 24% (22% in 2011-2012). Heroin was the principal drug in 8% of treatment episodes in 2012-2013, lower than in the two previous reporting periods (13% in 2011-2012 and 9% in 2010-2011. Approximately 63% of all treatment episodes were for multiple drugs.

New psychoactive substances (NPS) have been present in notable quantities in Australia since at least the mid-2000s. The most prevalent NPS available in the Australian illicit drug market are synthetic cathinone-type substances, synthetic cannabinoids and tryptamine-type substances. While the number of analysed border seizures containing NPS and drug analogues in 2012-2013 decreased, the amount of seizures more than doubled. In 2012-2013, synthetic cathinones accounted for the majority of analysed border seizures by number, while piperazines accounted for the greatest proportion of seizures by weight.

A total of 757 clandestine laboratories were detected in Australia in 2012-2013. Of these, 544 laboratories were manufacturing amphetamines and seven were manufacturing MDMA. The majority of laboratories continue to be detected in residential areas; however, the proportion of laboratories detected in commercial/industrial locations increased in 2012-2013, from 2.8% in 2011-2012 to 8.9%.

Significant quantities of ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) and their precursor chemicals continue to be seized in air and sea cargo, from air passenger couriers and in the international mail stream. China, India and Viet Nam were indicated to be the prominent embarkation countries for ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) precursor chemicals.

In 2012-2013, the number of ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) detections at the Australian border increased by 85.6%, from 1,077 in 2011-2012 to 1,999 in 2012-2013. The amount of ATS (excluding ecstasy-type substances) border detections increased by 515.8%, from 347.3 kg in 2011-2012 to 2,138.5 kg in 2012-2013. The increase was mainly due to three large detections in sea cargo, which have a combined weight of 1,254.8 kg, a large share of which originated from China. However the majority of detections in 2012-2013 were in the postal stream, for amounts ranging from less than 1 kg to 9 kg.

The number and amount of MDMA detections at the Australian border increased in 2012-13, with the 4,139 detections the highest number on record. The amount of MDMA detections increased by 1,143.3%, from 12 kg in 2011-2012 to 149.2 kg in 2012-2013, the largest quantity detected since 2007-2008.

Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Australia, 2008-2009 to 2012-2013