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Strong link evident between drugs and crime

Media Release

23 April 2005

Media release from Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator the Hon Chris Ellison

Almost half of police detainees interviewed in an Australian survey on drug use reported using drugs just prior to their arrest, with 61% of those charged with a property offence testing positive to an illicit drug other than cannabis, according to the results of a new survey released today by the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison.

Releasing the results of the Australian Government's most recent survey of police detainees - the 2004 annual report of the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program - Senator Ellison said the survey would provide another valuable plank in the development, implementation and evaluation of policy covering the links between drug use and crime.

"This demonstrates the importance of the Government's Tough on Drugs Programme. If we make progress in the war on drugs, we make great strides in the fight against crime," he said.

"The DUMA program, now in its fifth year, provides us with vital information on the drugs/crime nexus and also plays a significant role in the identification of changes in local drug markets."

"For example, in previous years an upward trend in methamphetamine use was observed in the DUMA sites, but the 2004 data shows that methamphetamine use has stabilised at the nine sites surveyed across the country.

"The government remains vigilant in monitoring possible changes in local drug markets, with the proportion of detainees testing positive to heroin staying the same or declining in most sites.

"However, we need to monitor closely the slight increase in heroin use in Western Sydney."

Other findings of the DUMA survey include:

  • 71% of detainees reported obtaining illicit drugs in the 30 days prior to their arrest;
  • 37% of all detainees attributed some of their criminal activity to illicit drug usage, and
  • Detainees who were classified as drug-dependent or who had tested positive to methamphetamine or heroin had the highest number of arrests in the previous year.

"The need for drug treatment and professional help for mental health concerns amongst offenders is highlighted in the 2004 report. Thirteen per cent of all detainees were classified as dependent on alcohol, and 40 per cent on illicit drugs," Senator Ellison said.

"Almost one-third of detainees were classified as having extreme levels of psychological distress, with these higher levels of distress pointing to possible dependence on illicit drugs.

"Australia's drug strategy has been recognised internationally for its integrated focus on health, education and law enforcement, including a sound evidence base for policy development, implementation and evaluation on the links between drugs and crime.

"One important aspect of the Government's response to local crime is the National Community Crime Prevention Programme, including a specific funding stream for the Western Sydney region."

Detainees were surveyed at seven sites across Australia - two each in NSW, Queensland and South Australia and one site in WA (local results available through the link below).

Funded under the Australian Government's National Illicit Drug Strategy, DUMA has been in operation since 1999 and quarterly data collection over seven sites provides empirical, timely and long term trend data on illicit drug use among people arrested and brought to a police station or watchhouse.

The majority of detainees in 2004 (90%) agreed to participate in DUMA, and of those, 82 per cent also voluntarily agreed to provide a urine sample. Urinalysis data acts as independent evidence of illicit drug use.