Australian Institute of Criminology

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The ACT heroin drought turning drug users to methamphetamine and cocaine

Media Release

29 November 2001

In its annual study of drug trends in the ACT, the Australian Institute of Criminology will report at a national conference to be held in Sydney today that the heroin drought which commenced in late December 2000 has resulted in ACT injecting drug users turning to methamphetamine and cocaine.

The study is part of the National Illicit Drug Reporting System and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care and the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. It monitors the price, purity, availability and use of four main illicit drug types - heroin, amphetamines, cocaine and cannabis.

To achieve this, interviews are conducted with injecting drug users; professionals in drug-related fields and analyses of administrative data collected by health and law enforcement agencies are undertaken.

The report shows that in 2000/2001 heroin was more difficult to obtain, its price increased by 62%, and purity decreased by 30%. The median number of days which injectors used heroin in the 6 months prior to interview decreased by over 70%.

In contrast to the heroin trends, injection of methamphetamine in the 6 months prior to interview increased by 28% and injection of cocaine in the same period tripled to 34%.

Paul Williams, Manager of the Public Policy and Drugs Program at the AIC believes the drought has been beneficial to the ACT, but warns that if the emerging methamphetamine and cocaine trends become entrenched, they are likely to be more difficult to manage than heroin.

"We welcome the trends in decreased heroin use and the positives this has brought about."

"The number of heroin users who reported overdosing decreased by 73% and non-fatal heroin overdoses attended by ACT ambulance decreased by 32%. It is also clear that some people have stopped injecting entirely."

"While not exclusively related to drug use, property crime decreased by 17% in the last financial year and burglaries from homes, and thefts of motor vehicles more particularly, fell by 23% and 31% respectively." The AFP's Operation Anchorage was a major factor in the observed decrease.

"However, the trend towards increased methamphetamine and cocaine use presents serious health and law enforcement challenges for the ACT community. Methamphetamine use has been shown to be associated with violence and it can induce severe paranoid and psychotic episodes among users."

"Concerning cocaine, the ACT had until recently been quarantined from the apparent surge in use which has been evident in Sydney for the past two or three years. As with methamphetamine, cocaine is associated with violence and psychoses. Dependent users inject up to a dozen times daily and this increases the likelihood of associated crime and unsafe injecting practices and mental health problems."

Table 1: Summary of drug trends, ACT, 1999/2000, 2000/2001
  Heroin Amphetamines Cocaine Cannabis
  1999/2000 2000/2001 1999/2000 2000/2001 1999/2000 2000/2001 1999/2000 2000/2001
Price-Gram $300 $485 $180 $250 $170 $165 $300 (ounce) $280 (ounce)
Availability Easy Getting difficult Easy Easy Difficult Easy Easy Easy
Purity 53% 40% 10% 12% 26% 37% High High