Alcohol and drug misuse continue to be a significant issue within the Australian community, in particular because of the role it plays as a contributing factor in the commission of crime.
Since 1999, the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC), Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program has provided a unique and valued insight into trends in drug use and crime in Australia. The strength of DUMA lies in the depth and breadth of its longitudinal data. Since its inception, 48,251 detainees have been interviewed, 35,277 of whom provided a urine sample for drug analysis. The continuing aim of DUMA is to provide timely and accurate information about trends in alcohol and drug use among Australian detainees to support and inform policing, healthcare and government policy development.
In 2011–12, there was a rise in amphetamine use among Australian detainees. This rise is contrary to a downwards trend in use that had been observed consistently since 2005. Given that amphetamine use is associated with a heightened risk of aggressive and violent behaviour, the AIC will continue to monitor this trend and explore its links with the commission of violent and other forms of crime.
Consistent with community concern regarding alcohol-fuelled violence, 35 percent of detainees for whom a violent offence was the most serious offence for which they were being held in police custody at the time of interview, reported that alcohol consumption had been a contributing factor. Of concern, detainees reported consuming, on average, 22 standard drinks on their last occasion of alcohol use. This reflects a rise in consumption from previous collection periods. Alcohol consumption at this level greatly exceeds the Commonwealth Government recommendations that no more than six standard units for males and four standard units for females be consumed on any one drinking occasion.
Informing debate on the need for random drug testing of drivers, 54 percent of detainees being held for drink driving or traffic offences tested positive, via urinalysis, to having at least one drug in their system. The most common drug type detected was cannabis. Consumption of cannabis is known to impair cognitive abilities, such as short-term memory and reaction time. There was a 20 percentage point increase in the return of positive drug tests for drink driving or traffic offenders in the current period, compared with the previous collection period. This suggests that either drug driving is becoming more common, or that police are becoming increasingly effective at identifying and charging drug affected drivers.
The AIC extends gratitude to the Commonwealth Government for their continued support of the DUMA project. DUMA would not exist without the commitment and cooperation of state and territory police services. The scale and longevity of the DUMA program is a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of all involved.