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Executive summary

Funded by the Commonwealth 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 prior to arrest).

This report is part of the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) biennial series and describes key results from the DUMA data collected January 2011 to December 2012 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 2011–12, a total of 7,591 adult detainees were interviewed as part of the DUMA program. Of these:

  • 85 percent were male—a gender ratio that has remained consistent since data collection first began in 1999 and that reflects the gender ratio in the general detainee population;
  • 13 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, 15 percent were aged 31 to 35 years and 31 percent were aged 36 years and over. The average age for male and female detainees was the same at 32 years;
  • 41 percent of detainees reported having completed fewer than 10 years of formal education, 14 percent were enrolled in TAFE or university at the time of interview, 21 percent had completed a TAFE qualification and five percent had completed a university qualification. These results represent an improvement in scholastic achievement among detainees compared with previous collection periods;
  • 27 percent of detainees were working full-time and 10 percent part-time at the time of interview, and 44 percent of detainees reported that they were unemployed, either currently looking (28%) or not looking (16%) for work. Since 2009–10, there was little change in the employment status of detainees; and
  • an additional 130 juvenile detainees were interviewed in the three New South Wales sites of Bankstown, Kings Cross and Parramatta—juvenile and adult detainee data are reported separately. On average, juvenile detainees were 16 years of age and the majority were male (76%).

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. During a review of the DUMA program in 2011 and early 2012, the urine collection schedule was altered. Urine samples are now collected from detainees every second quarter, rather than every quarter. In 2012, the new collection cycle commenced. Urine was collected in the first and third quarter for the sites of Adelaide, Brisbane, East Perth, Darwin, Footscray and Southport. In New South Wales, Bankstown urine collection was conducted in the first and fourth quarter, while urine was collected once in 2012 for Kings Cross (first quarter) and Parramatta (fourth quarter).

Urinalysis compliance rates are calculated as a percentage of detainees who provided a urine sample when a sample was requested. In 2011–12, there was a 76 percent urine compliance rate. In 2012, the rate of urinalysis compliance was four percentage points lower than in 2011 (73% cf 77%). The collection rate achieved in 2011–12 is consistent with previous years. By drug type, key findings from the 2011–12 urinalysis are as follows:


  • 22 percent of detainees who provided a urine sample tested positive to benzodiazepines. This is consistent with the long-term trend in benzodiazepine use, which has remained between 21 and 23 percent since 1999 (with the exception of 2003, where benzodiazepine use rose to 26%). Thirty-two percent of adult female detainees and 21 percent of adult male detainees tested positive to benzodiazepines.


  • 47 percent of detainees tested positive to cannabis. Cannabis continued to be the most commonly detected drug among police detainees. There has been a gradual decline in cannabis use since its peak in 1999, when 61 percent of detainees tested positive.
  • 48 percent of male detainees tested positive to cannabis, compared with 42 percent of female detainees. Cannabis use was most prevalent among detainees 18 to 20 years of age (58%), followed by those 21 to 25 years of age (54%), 31 to 35 years of age (45%), 26 to 30 years of age (44%); the lowest rate of use was among detainees 36 years of age or older (40%).


  • One percent of male and female detainees tested positive to cocaine. Consistent with previous years, cocaine remained one of the least frequently detected drugs among police detainees.


  • 10 percent of detainees tested positive to heroin. Test positive rates for heroin showed marked variation across data collection sites. For example, detainees in the Victorian site of Footscray were the most likely to test positive to heroin (46%), whereas detainees in Darwin were the least likely (1%).
  • 15 percent of female detainees tested positive to heroin and 10 percent of male detainees.
  • Between 2009–10 and 2011–12, national test positive rates to heroin decreased by three percentage points. Since the 2000–01 heroin shortage, heroin use indicators among detainees continue to remain at historical lows.


  • 24 percent of police detainees tested positive to amphetamines; this constitutes an increase of eight percentage points since 2009–10 (16%). This is the highest recorded rate of amphetamine use since 2004, when it peaked at 34 percent.
  • Rates of amphetamine use varied between data collection sites, ranging from a high of 32 percent in Parramatta, followed by Kings Cross (31%), East Perth (28%), Brisbane (26%), South Port (25%), Adelaide (23%), Footscray (21%), Bankstown (16%), to a low of six percent in Darwin.

MDMA (Ecstasy)

  • One percent of detainees tested positive to MDMA. Since DUMA commenced in 1999, the number of detainees testing positive to MDMA has remained low—between less than one and three percent.

Other opiates

  • Six percent of detainees tested positive to methadone and nine percent tested positive to buprenorphine.
  • 11 percent of females and five percent of males tested positive to methadone.
  • In total, five 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

  • 47 percent of adult police detainees reported having drunk alcohol in the 48 hours prior to their arrest.
  • Although results have fluctuated, there has been a general increase in recent alcohol use since data were first collected in 2001 (38%).
  • Male detainees were more likely than female detainees (49% cf 37%) to have been drinking in the 48 hours prior to their arrest.
  • Alcohol use was identified by detainees as a contributing factor to their current detention by police by 76 percent of drink driving offenders, 35 percent of violent offenders and 48 percent of disorderly conduct offenders.
  • The average quantity of alcohol consumed on the last drinking occasion was 22 standard drinks, although the average quantity was as high as 35 standard drinks for those who were mixing beer, wine or spirits on the last occasion. These results were consistent throughout 2011 and 2012 and male detainees consumed more alcohol on average than female detainees. Since 2009–10, the average quantity of alcohol consumed on the last occasion has increased (14 cf 20 standard drinks in 2011–12).

Drug and alcohol treatment

  • Unmet treatment needs remained high among detainees, with only 12 percent of detainees who had used at least one illicit drug in the previous 12 months reporting being in drug or alcohol treatment at the time of arrest. A further 35 percent of detainees tested positive to at least one illicit drug reported previous treatment but were no longer in treatment at the time of their arrest.
  • There were no notable differences compared with previous years in the levels of access to treatment (either current or past treatment).
  • Of the 629 detainees in treatment, 23 percent were in treatment under a court, or police referral or legal order; 58 percent were self-referred and 19 percent were referred by a general practitioner or health professional. Since 2009–10, these referral ratios have remained relatively stable.

Mental health

  • 34 percent of detainees reported having been previously diagnosed with a mental health-related issue. This was a slight decrease from the 38 percent of detainees reporting previous mental health-related diagnosis in 2009–10.
  • Female detainees were more likely than male detainees to report a previous mental health diagnosis (47% cf 32%).
  • One in five detainees (21%) reported being diagnosed with a mood disorder. This was followed by diagnoses of anxiety disorders (14%), schizophrenia and psychosis (7%), and ADHD and behavioural disorders (6%).

Relationship between drug use and offending

Most serious offence and drug use

  • By most serious offence category, male detainees were most commonly categorised as violent offenders (29%) and female detainees were most commonly categorised as property offenders (30%).
  • For male violent offenders, 64 percent tested positive via urinalysis to at least one drug, excluding alcohol, with cannabis being the most common (46%).
  • For property offenders, 78 percent tested positive to at least one drug, with female and male property offenders both similarly likely to test positive to at least one drug (77% cf 78%).
  • Drug offenders were most likely to test positive to amphetamines (40%), followed by property offenders (31%), breach offenders (25%), traffic offenders (24%), violent offenders (20%), drink driving offenders (16%) and disorderly conduct offenders (11%)
  • Drug offenders were most likely to test positive to heroin (22%), followed by property offenders (19%) and breach offenders (9%).
  • Property offenders were more likely than other offender types to test positive to benzodiazepines (31%).

Crime attributed to drug use

  • The DUMA survey includes specific questions that quantify the relationship reported by detainees between substance use (drugs and/or alcohol) and the offences for which they were in custody at the time of interview.
  • 47 percent of detainees confirmed that their substance use (drugs and/or alcohol) contributed to their current offences—28 percent reported that alcohol use and 23 percent reported that drug use had contributed to their current detention by police.
  • Alcohol was more likely than drug use to be identified as a contributing factor to offending by most serious violent, drink driving, traffic, disorder and breach offenders, whereas drug use was more likely than alcohol to be identified as contributing factors by property and drug offenders.

Prior contact with the criminal justice system

  • In 2011–12, 44 percent of detainees interviewed reported having been charged on at least one separate occasion in the previous 12 months. This represented a slight decline in the recidivism rate compared with previous years (51% in 2009–10) and is the lowest rate recorded by DUMA.
  • Male detainees (45%) were slightly more likely than females (40%) to report having been previously charged in the 12 months prior to interview.
  • In 2011–12, 17 percent of detainees reported having been incarcerated in prison in the 12 months prior to interview. This is consistent with 2009–10 rates, which were also 17 percent.


  • Where possible and with parental consent (as well as the consent of the detainee), juvenile detainees under 18 years of age are interviewed in New South Wales as part of the DUMA program.
  • In 2011–12, 130 juvenile detainees were interviewed across the three Sydney sites—61 were interviewed at Bankstown, 61 at Parramatta and eight at Kings Cross.
  • The majority were male (76%) aged 16 or 17 years (66%).
  • In 2011–12, fewer juveniles were interviewed compared with previous years. This may be due, in part, to methodological changes that saw the introduction of data collection at Kings Cross, where fewer juveniles tend to be processed. It also reflects a general decline in the number of juveniles who were detained across the Sydney data collection sites during the data collection period.
  • 55 percent of juveniles who provided a urine sample tested positive to at least one drug type. This is among the highest recorded figures for juveniles since data collection commenced in 1999 and shows a 10 percentage point increase from 2009–10.
  • In 2011–12, the drug most commonly detected via urinalysis for juvenile detainees was cannabis (53%), followed by methamphetamine (7%) and benzodiazepines (3%). These figures represent a shift in juvenile drug usage since 2009–10. In 2009–10, the most commonly detected drugs for juvenile detainees were cannabis (44%), benzodiazepines (5%) and opiates (2%).


  • Each year, specific issues of interest are addressed via a quarterly survey addendum. Addenda are developed in consultation with both Commonwealth and state stakeholders and collect information on emerging issues of policy relevance.
  • Housing and Employment Addendum—An investigation into homelessness and housing stress among the detainee population during the second quarter of 2011 estimated that 23 percent of the detainee population is experiencing homelessness or housing stress in some form. Family or relationship breakdown, financial circumstances/job loss and illicit drug addiction were the most commonly cited causes of housing instability. Barriers to stable housing were discussed, with populations in contact with the criminal justice system being identified as vulnerable in terms of housing.
  • Prescription Drug Addendum—An investigation into the use and methods of obtaining pharmaceutical drugs during the third quarter of 2011 revealed that more than one in three detainees used prescription drugs such as buprenorphine, methadone, morphine, benzodiazepines or dexamphetamine in the 12 months prior to interview. Of those who had used the listed pharmaceuticals, almost two-thirds had obtained them from an illegitimate source.
  • Stolen Goods and Motive Addendum—A comparison of 2007 and 2012 DUMA data revealed that food and cash were the most commonly stolen items reported in both periods. In 2012, with regard to detainees who stole, the majority of detainees reported that they usually stole from a shop (70%).This is consistent with 2007 data. There was an eight percentage point decrease in stealing from a person between 2007 (15%) and 2012 (8%). Motivations for stealing can primarily be categorised as a perceived need for income and illicit drug-related motivations.
  • Drink Driving Addendum—An examination of drink driving behaviours during the third quarter of 2012 revealed that random roadside testing serves as a deterrent to drink driving for the majority of detainees (59%). A subgroup of detainees (25%) were identified as having engaged in drink driving in the previous 12 months, 47 percent of whom did so on at least a monthly basis. The majority of drink drivers reported having been apprehended by police for drink driving offences at some point in their lifetime. This suggests that while existing measures may not be a sufficient deterrent for this subgroup, they appear to be effective, with apprehensions for drink driving offences being reported.
  • Domestic Violence Addendum—An examination of detainees’ perceptions of domestic violence, conducted during the fourth quarter of 2012, showed that detainees more readily identified overt physical and verbal behaviours such as hitting or threatening, and acts against property that constitute domestic violence compared with covert or indirect acts, such as monitoring activities and withholding money.


  • Overall, across the 2011–12 period, the most notable trend in illicit drug use within the Australian detainee sample was an increase in prevalence of use of amphetamines.
  • A slight decrease in prevalence of use was observed for cannabis, which has continued on a downwards trend since 1999 and heroin.
  • Prevalence of use of benzodiazepines, cocaine and MDMA remained relatively stable across the period.
Last updated
3 November 2017