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Drug use monitoring in Australia: 2009–10 - Foreword

The Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program is a key research initiative of the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) that provides unique and up to date information on the consumption of drugs within Australia. The provision of this information to law enforcement and policy agencies represents a significant contribution to sustaining a quality evidence base that supports the development and implementation of effective approaches to reduce the supply, demand and harms associated with drug use.

DUMA involves the quarterly collection of information on drug use and crime from police detainees (alleged offenders) in selected police stations and watch-houses across Australia. Since its inception in 1999, the number of sites where the program operates has increased from four to nine and as such, it is the only nationwide survey of detainees in Australia conducted on a routine basis. In recognition of the importance of the information provided by DUMA, the Australian Government has provided ongoing funding to the program.

In 2009–10 the use of cannabis appeared to be decreasing among police detainees, while the use of other drug types remained consistent with previous years. While these trends are encouraging, the continuing high levels of use among detainees require continued monitoring and attention. DUMA can play a dual role both in monitoring trends to inform policy development and highlighting the impact of local and national responses to illicit drug use in Australia. There were some specific areas of analysis worthy of note.

The Australian and state/territory governments remain concerned about methamphetamine use and its related problems. While it was encouraging to note that in 2009–10 methamphetamine use among detainees was at its lowest level since DUMA’s inception in 1999, it is of some concern that further analysis of data collected in the first three quarters of 2011 showed a spike in the use of methamphetamine (see Macgregor and Payne 2011, Appendix B).

This report also provides an improved understanding of alcohol use among the detainee population. Previously, little information was gathered about DUMA detainees’ levels of alcohol use, but following a review of the DUMA survey in 2009 additional questions now capture greater detail on the drinking patterns of offenders in the sample. The new questions capture information on the type and amount of alcohol consumed by detainees as well as the location of where they had their last drink. Analysis of the data showed that detainees who drank in the 30 days prior to being detained consumed on average 14 standard drinks on the last occasion. Further analysis revealed that those detainees who consumed more than one type of alcohol on the last occasion consumed an average of 24 standard drinks. The extent of consumption being reported is clearly concerning, and may go some way to explaining why detainees are in police watch-houses in the first place.

Further enhancements to the DUMA survey allow for a more detailed examination of relationship between substance use (drugs and/or alcohol) and the offences for which detainees were in custody at the time of interview. In 2009–10, nearly half of all detainees (45%) reported that substance use had contributed to their current offences, which given the amount of alcohol being consumed, often in combination with illicit drugs, this finding is perhaps not unexpected.

DUMA would not exist without the continued commitment and cooperation of state and territory police services. To date, the database contains invaluable research data from 40,530 detainees and urinalysis results from 31,430. That the majority of detainees voluntarily agreed to be interviewed in 2009–10, with around three quarters of those also agreeing to provide a urine sample, is a tribute to the professionalism of all those involved in the DUMA program.

Adam Tomison

Last updated
3 November 2017