Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

Funded by the Australian Government and established in 1999, the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program is Australia’s largest and longest-running ongoing survey of police detainees across Australia. DUMA currently operates at nine data collection sites and comprises two core components:

  • a self-report survey detailing a range of criminal justice, demographic, drug use and drug market participation information; and
  • voluntary urinalysis, which serves as an important objective method for corroborating self-reported recent drug use (within 48 hours before arrest).

During a recent review of the DUMA program, it was decided that, henceforth, annual data would be reported every two years, making available additional resources to dedicate to the production of subject-specific research articles using the DUMA database. This report is the first in the new biennial series and describes key results from the DUMA data collected throughout 2009 and 2010 from the nine different sites: Brisbane and Southport (Queensland); Bankstown, Parramatta and Kings Cross (New South Wales); Adelaide (South Australia); East Perth (Western Australia); Footscray (Victoria); and Darwin (Northern Territory).

In 2009–10, a total of 7,575 adult detainees were interviewed as part of the DUMA program. Of these:

  • 83 percent were male—a gender ratio that has remained generally consistent since data collection first began in 1999;
  • aggregated across all sites, 21 percent of detainees self-identified as Indigenous (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background), with self-identification highest among detainees in Darwin (73%), East Perth (32%) and Adelaide (17%), and lowest in Bankstown (3%);
  • 14 percent of detainees were aged 18 to 20 years, 21 percent were aged 21 to 25 years, 19 percent were aged 26 to 30 years, 14 percent were aged 31 to 35 years and 31 percent were aged 36 years and over. The average male detainee was marginally older than the average female detainee;
  • almost half of the detainees had fewer than 10 years of formal education (46%; that is, they left school before Year 11), while 17 percent had finished a TAFE course and 12 percent were currently in TAFE or university. Only five percent of adult detainees reported having completed university;
  • almost one-third of adult detainees (29%) were currently working full-time and 43 percent reported that they were unemployed and either currently looking (27%) or not looking (16%) for work;
  • an additional 186 juveniles were interviewed in the three New South Wales sites of Bankstown, Kings Cross and Parramatta—these data are reported separately.

Drug and alcohol indicators

Drug use (based on urinalysis)

A unique feature of the DUMA program is its use of urinalysis to provide estimates of recent drug use (within the previous 48 hours). The provision of a urine sample is both voluntary and confidential. Approximately 75 percent of detainees nationwide agreed to the test, of which 66 percent tested positive to at least one substance. By drug type, key findings from the urinalysis are as follows.

Benzodiazepines

  • One in five (23%) detainees tested positive to benzodiazepines in 2009–10. This is consistent with the long-term trend in benzodiazepine use, which has remained between 21 and 23 percent since 1999 (the exception was in 2003, where benzodiazepine use rose to 26%). Thirty-six percent of adult female detainees and 21 percent of adult male detainees tested positive to benzodiazepines.

Cannabis

  • Cannabis continues to be the most commonly detected drug among police detainees, with 46 percent testing positive in 2009–10. This is down from 47 percent in 2008 and continues the gradual decline in cannabis use since its highest point at 61 percent in 1999.
  • Male (47%) and female (45%) detainees were equally likely to test positive to cannabis, although it is interesting to note that cannabis, along with MDMA (ecstasy), are the only drugs for which males show a higher number of positive test results than females. Cannabis use was also most prevalent among 18–20 year old detainees (57%) and lowest among those aged 36 years or older (37%).

Cocaine

  • Consistent with previous years, cocaine remains one of the least frequently identified drugs among police detainees—only two percent of detainees tested positive in 2009–10.
  • Of all detainees, those whose most serious offence was a drug offence (traffic, supply, possession) were most likely to test positive to cocaine (10%).

Heroin

  • Just over one in 10 police detainees (13%) tested positive to heroin in 2009–10, although test positive rates vary significantly across data collection locations. Detainees in the Victorian site of Footscray (51%) were the most likely to test positive to heroin, whereas detainees in Darwin (2%) were the least likely.
  • Nationally, female detainees (20%) were nearly twice as likely as male detainees (11%) to test positive to heroin.
  • Since the heroin shortage in 2000–01, heroin use indicators among police detainees remain at historical lows.

Amphetamines

  • Sixteen percent of police detainees tested positive to amphetamines in 2009–10. This is lower than in 2008 (21%) and considerably lower than its peak at 34 percent in 2004.
  • Although not canvassed in this report, more recent figures for 2011 show that this downward trend was short-lived and that rates of amphetamines use appear to be increasing (see Macgregor & Payne 2011, Appendix B).
  • As with heroin, amphetamines use varies between DUMA sites, ranging from a high of 20 percent in East Perth to a low of six percent in Darwin.

MDMA (Ecstasy)

  • The number of detainees testing positive to MDMA has remained low since DUMA commenced in 1999—between one and three percent nationally.
  • Detainees aged 18 to 20 years and 21 to 25 years were more likely to test positive to MDMA in 2009–10 (both 2%), followed by detainees aged 26 to 30 years and 31 to 35 years (both 1%), and detainees over 36 years (<1%).

Other opiates

  • Six percent of detainees tested positive to methadone and eight percent tested positive to buprenorphine.
  • Consistent with higher rates of heroin use, females were more likely (14%) than males (5%) to test positive to methadone.
  • In total, four percent of adult detainees tested positive to an opiate metabolite not identified as heroin, buprenorphine or methadone. This includes morphine and codeine.

Self-reported alcohol use

  • Almost half (47%) of adult police detainees report having drunk alcohol in the 48 hours before their arrest.
  • Although results have fluctuated, there has been a general increase in recent alcohol use since data was first collected in 2001 (38%).
  • Male detainees were more likely than female detainees (49% cf 37%) to have been drinking in the 48 hours before their arrest. Alcohol use was most prevalent among most serious drink driving, violent and disorderly conduct offenders.
  • The average quantity of alcohol consumed on the last occasion was 14 standard drinks, although this was as high as 24 standard drinks for those who were mixing beer, wine or spirits on the last occasion. These results were consistent throughout 2009 and 2010 and male detainees consumed more alcohol on average than female detainees.

Drug and alcohol treatment

  • Six hundred and thirty detainees in 2009 and 2010 reported that they were in drug or alcohol treatment at the time of arrest. This represents approximately 14 percent of those who had used at least one illicit drug in the previous 12 months. A further 1,410 detainees had been previously in a treatment program but were no longer in treatment at the time of their arrest.
  • Overall, there were no notable differences compared with previous years in the levels of access to treatment (either current or past treatment).
  • One in four detainees currently in treatment had been referred by the courts or police or as a result of a legal order.

Mental health

  • Questions relevant to the mental health of detainees were revised in the third quarter of 2009 to include questions about previous mental health diagnoses or psychiatric hospitalisations.
  • Five percent of police detainees reported at least one overnight stay in a psychiatric unit in 2009–10. Female detainees and male detainees were equally likely to report an overnight stay in a psychiatric unit (5% respectively).
  • Two in five detainees (38%) reported having been previously diagnosed with a mental health related issue. Female detainees were more likely than male detainees to report having been previously diagnosed with a mental health related issue (51% cf 36%).

Relationship between drug use and offending

Most serious offence and drug use

  • In the most serious offence categories, violent offences were the most prevalent among male detainees (28%), while property offences were the most prevalent among female detainees (30%).
  • Detainees aged 18 to 20 years were more likely to commit most serious violent or property offences when compared with other age groups. Detainees aged 26 years and above were more likely to commit most serious drug offences when compared with detainees aged less than 26 years.
  • Excluding alcohol, 59 percent of adult male detainees whose most serious offence was violent tested positive to at least one drug, compared with 68 percent of female detainees.

Crime attributed to drug use

  • In mid-2009 a set of new questions was developed in an effort to quantify the relationship reported by detainees between substance use (drugs and/or alcohol) and the offences for which the detainees were in custody at the time of interview.
  • Nearly half of all detainees (45%) confirmed that their substance use contributed to their current offences.
  • Alcohol was more likely than other substances to be identified as a contributing factor to their offending by most serious violent, drink driving, road and traffic, disorder and breach offenders, whereas other substances such as heroin and amphetamines were more likely than alcohol to be identified as contributing factors by most serious property and drug offenders.

Prior contact with the criminal justice system

  • Half of all detainees interviewed in 2009–10 (51%) reported having been charged on at least one separate occasion in the previous 12 months. This was consistent with previous years and generally equal for male and female detainees (52% cf 50%).
  • One in five detainees (17%) had spent time in prison in the previous 12 months. Overall, there was a four percentage point decrease between 2009 and 2010 in the proportion of detainees that had spent time in prison in the previous 12 months (15%, down from 19%).
  • 2010 had the lowest level of prior imprisonment recorded among DUMA detainees in its 13-year history.

Juveniles

  • Where possible and with parental consent, juvenile detainees under the age of 18 years are interviewed in New South Wales as part of the DUMA program.
  • A total of 186 juvenile detainees were interviewed at the three Sydney sites in 2009–10: 83 were interviewed at Bankstown, 89 at Parramatta and 14 at Kings Cross.
  • The majority were male (82%) aged 16 or 17 years (66%).
  • Overall, fewer juveniles were interviewed throughout 2009–10 compared with previous years, owing to the introduction of data collection in Kings Cross (where fewer juveniles are processed generally) and a general decline in the number of juveniles who are detained across the Sydney data collection sites.
  • Almost half (45%) of those who provided a urine sample tested positive to at least one drug type. In 2010 alone, 50 percent tested positive. This is among the highest recorded figures for juveniles since data collection commenced in 1999.
  • The drug most commonly detected in juveniles in 2009–10 was cannabis (44%), followed by benzodiazepines (5%), opiates (2%), cocaine (1%), methadone (1%), amphetamines (1%), methamphetamine (1%), heroin (1%) and buprenorphine (1%).