Australia

Emerging trends and concerns

  • In recent years, large quantities of ATS (excluding MDMA) have been seized at the Australian border. Although the amount seized in 2015-2016  decreased compared to the preceding reporting period, it was the second largest on record.  
  • There are indications that consumption of methamphetamine, particularly in crystalline form, has been increasing strongly in recent years.
  • Transnational organized crime groups, in particular from East and South-East Asia, are increasingly targeting Australia for the purposes of methamphetamine trafficking. In addition, there are indications that outlawed motor cycle gangs (OMCGs) have a significant role in the trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine and other illicit drugs into the country.

Overview of the drug situation

According to the most recent data (2016), the annual prevalence of amphetamine and methamphetamine among the general population[1] in Australia was estimated at 1.4%, a significant decrease from the result reported in 2013 (2.1%).[2] However, it is important to note that there has been a change in the preferred form of methamphetamine used in the country. For instance, in 2010, 22 % of the methamphetamine users reported use of methamphetamine in crystalline form, while the corresponding figure increased to 57% in 2016.[3] The annual prevalence of use of “ecstasy”[4] slightly decreased from 2.5% in 2013 to 2.2% in 2016.[5] On the other hand, reported cocaine use increased significantly from 1.6% in 2007 to 2.5% in 2016.[6] Heroin use (0.2% in 2016) in Australia is limited, when compared to other major illicit drugs.

The first national wastewater analysis was conducted to estimate national drug consumption in Australia in 2016. The study confirmed that methamphetamine was the highest consumed illicit drug among the 13 substances[7] analysed. The estimated national average consumption of methamphetamine was 35 doses[8] per 1,000 people per day in 2016.[9] When compared to corresponding data from 17 European countries, Australia had the second highest total estimated consumption. [10] In addition, the study also found levels of pharmaceutical synthetic opioids (oxycodone and fentanyl) use which are of concern. [11]  In the same study, the national average consumption of cocaine was estimated at less than 4 doses per 1,000 people per day in 2016, [12] suggesting that actual consumption of cocaine in the country is still limited.

Table 1. Trends in use of selected drugs in Australia, 2004-2016[13]

Source(s): AIHW, “National Drug Strategy Household Survey report (NDSHS) 2016 data & references”, 2017 ”; UNODC, ARQ Australia for 2015 and previous years, based on expert perception.

Over the last five years, the total number of closed treatment episodes for alcohol and other drugs increased by 35% from 146,948 in 2011-2012 to 198,747 in 2015-2016.[14] This increase is primarily due to the number of treatment episodes, for which amphetamine-group substances were the principal drug of concern during the five year period (see figure 1). For instance, during the same period, the number of treatment episodes for which amphetamine-group substances were the principal drug increased by 175%, from 16,875 in 2011-2012 to 46,441 in 2015-2016. [15] The proportion of “ecstasy” related treatment episodes continue to be less than 1% of the total treatment episodes over the last five years.[16]

Figure 1. Proportion of treatment episodes by principal drug of concern in Australia, 2011 – 2012 to 2015- 2016

 

 

Source(s): AIHW, Alcohol and other drug treatment services National Minimum Dataset

In recent years, significant quantities of ATS (excluding MDMA) have been seized at the Australian border. A total of 2,620.6 kg of ATS (excluding MDMA) were seized at the border in 2015-2016. While this represents a 23.4% decrease compared to the previous reporting period (3,422.8 kg), it is the second highest amount ever reported by the Government of Australia. [17] The amount seized at the border in 2015-2016 also represents a 25-fold increase compared to that of 2010-2011 (105.2 kg).[18] Crystalline methamphetamine accounted for 64.2 % of the entire amount of ATS (excluding MDMA) by weight detected at the border in 2015-2016.[19]

The sharp rise in seizures of ATS (excluding MDMA) at the border as well as the fact that a number of shipments consisted of large drug quantities, which require a considerable financial investment and logistical effort, indicates the involvement of transnational organized crime groups. Transnational organized crime groups from East and South-East Asia, in particular China and Hong Kong, China, have been increasingly targeting the country for methamphetamine trafficking in recent years. About 70% of the entire amount of crystalline methamphetamine seized at the Australian border between 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 originated from China and Hong Kong (China).[20] The single largest crystalline methamphetamine seizure case, involving 903 kg of the drug originating from China, was reported in April 2017.[21] In 2015- 2016, in terms of weight, Taiwan Province of China was reported as the second major embarkation point for ATS (excluding MDMA) seized at the border, following China, including Hong Kong, China.[22]  Other countries in East and South-East Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, were reported as major embarkation points for crystalline methamphetamine trafficked into Australia between 2010-2011 and 2015-2016.[23]

Australian national authorities report that outlawed motor cycle gangs (OMCGs) played a significant role in the trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine and other illicit drugs into Australia, often in cooperation with chapters of OMCGs established in other countries. [24] For instance, three men associated with OMCGs were arrested in April 2017 for trafficking of approximately 119 kg of crystalline methamphetamine from Malaysia. [25]

Figure 2. Seizures of ATS (excluding MDMA) at the Australian border* (between 2010-2011 and 2015 -2016)

 


 

Source: ACIC, ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017.

There are indications that the scale of illicit manufacture of ATS (excluding MDMA) in Australia decreased in recent years, coinciding with the sharp rise in seizures of ATS (excluding MDMA) at the border. In 2015-2016, 333 illicit ATS (excluding MDMA) manufacturing facilities were detected in the country, representing a 40% decrease compared to the figure reported in 2011 – 2012.[26] During the same period, the amount of ATS (excluding MDMA) related precursors seized at the border also decreased by 40%.[27]

The retail price of 1 gram of crystalline methamphetamine in 2015 – 2016 ranged between USD 200 – 950, compared with USD 120 – 950 in 2014 – 2015.[28],[29]  The average purity of methamphetamine samples (crystalline methamphetamine as well as other forms of methamphetamine) analysed in the country in 2015 -2016 ranged between 74 – 80 % and was comparable to figures for the preceding reporting period.[30]  

After having seized about 2 metric tons (mt) of MDMA in 2014-2015 at the border, Australia seized 141.5 kg of the drug in 2015 -2016, a significant decrease compared to the preceding year.  However, recent “ecstasy” seizures at the border may be indicative of increasing flows of “ecstasy” to Australia. In October 2016, Australian national authorities seized a large haul of “ecstasy”, totaling 1.2 mt, which originated from Europe. [31] In addition, a total of 1.8 mt of MDMA, destined to Australia, were seized by authorities in the Netherlands between November 2016 and August 2017.[32]  Of the top 10 embarkation points for MDMA seized at the border (by weight), 8 of them were European countries.[33]  

 Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Australia, 2011-2012 to 2015-2016

Drug type

Measurement

2011-2012

2012-2013

2013-2014

2014-2015

2015- 2016

ATS*

Number

15,191

21,056

26,805

32,768

39,014

Weight (kg)

1,572.6

6,453.7

4,076.4

12,631.5

9,218.2

Cannabis

Number

51,823

54,181

53,404

 

59,271

61,334

Weight (kg)

7,349.2

9,344.0

7,074.0

6,004.8

6,081.5

Heroin

Number

1,758

1,584

1,598

1,914

2,081

Weight (kg)

388.3

544.8

158.1

478.0

220.7

Cocaine

Number

1,336

2,167

3,121

3,236

3,951

Weight (kg)

956.3

1,056.6

317.5

514.4

721.6

Other opioids

Number

83

103

1,137

1,521

328

Weight (kg)

26.6

6.1

29.4

740.6

58.5

Hallucinogens

Number

285

319

230

516

463

Weight (kg)

23.5

3.7

4.9

17.0

73.7

Steroids

Number

208

331

357

529

509

Weight (kg)

33.7

18.9

17.3

320.5

68.7

Other/ unknown[34]

Number

5,399

7,177

6,434

6,107

7,741

Weight (kg)

1,593.5

13,451.6

2,200.1

15,685.9[35]

4,576.5

Note: Data based on financial year (1 July to 30 June). Includes only those seizures for which a drug weight was recorded. Data reflect State and Territory police and Australian Federal Police (AFP) seizures. Seizures made during joint operations between the AFP and State and Territory police may be duplicated in these statistics. Weights given as rounded figures. *ATS includes amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA.
Source(s):
ACC, ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017 and previous years.

Various types of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have been identified in Australia, and are increasingly detected at the border, largely in parcel post and international mail.[36] Between 2008 and 2015, 104 different NPS were identified in the country[37] of which 28 substances were newly identified in 2015. Of these 104 substances, 29 were synthetic cathinones, 26 phenethylamines and 18 synthetic cannabinoids.[38] However, the extent of NPS use in the country appears not to be widespread, and the concentrations of the NPS included in the national wastewater study[39] were either at or below detection levels.

 



[1] Refers to people aged 14 years or older.

[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), “National Drug Strategy Household Survey report (NDSHS) 2016 data & references”, 2017. (Accessed at http://www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/data-sources/ndshs-2016/data/)

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Ecstasy” pills sold as ecstasy in Australia may contain substances other than MDMA.

[5] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), “NDSHS 2016 data & references”, 2017. (Accessed at http://www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/data-sources/ndshs-2016/data/)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (2017). National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program 2017. Report 1, March 2017. The substances analysed in this study were methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, MDA, JWH-018, JWH-073, mephedrone, methylone, oxycodone, fentanyl, tobacco, and alcohol.

[8] One dose for methamphetamine was estimated at 30 mg.  

[9] Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, “National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report”, March 2017.  

[10] Ibid.  

[11] Ibid.  

[12] Ibid.

[13] The latest year for which data are available.

[14] AIHW, Alcohol and other drug treatment services National Minimum Dataset (accessed at http://www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/data/#aodts-cubes)     

[15] Ibid.

 

[17] Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Australia National Ice Task Force, “Final Report of the National Ice Task Force 2015”, December 2015.

[21] Australia Federal Police (AFP), “Police operation leads to Australia’s largest ever meth bust”, media release, April, 2017. 

[22] ACIC, ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017.

[23] Australia National Ice Task Force, “Final Report of the National Ice Task Force 2015”, December 2015.

[24] AFP, International expansion of OMCGs into Asia & South-East Asia and the potential impacts, presented at the Countering OMCGs, Organised Crime and Methamphetamine Conference, Bali, Indonesia, 8-9 May 2017.

[25] Australian Border Force (ABF), “Three men associated with Outlaw Motorcycle Gang busted with $119 million of Ice”, news release, April, 2017.

[26] ACIC, ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Price data may differ from data as reported due to conversions made by UNODC.

[30] Ibid.

[31] AFP and the Australian Border Force (ABF), “More than a tone of MDMA valued at $145 million seized, two men charged”, joint press release, October 15, 2016.

[32] AFP, “International organised crime syndicates dismantled, 17 arrested in Sydney, Dubai and Europe”, press release, August, 2017.

[33] ACIC, ‘2015-2016 Illicit Drug Data Report’, June 2017.

[34] Drugs categorized as “other and unknown” include new psychoactive substances, precursors, anabolic agents, selected hormones, tryptamines, anesthetics, various pharmaceuticals and drugs not elsewhere classified.

[35] The considerable increase in the reporting period is primarily due to a single seizure with 10 tons of benzaldehyde, a substance used in the manufacture of methamphetamine in the phenyl-2-propanone (P-2-P), in Victoria.

[36] ACC, ‘2014-2015 Illicit Drug Data Report’, August 2016.

[37] UNODC, Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (2017). National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program 2017. Report 1, March 2017.