Co­caine blowout as users snow­ball

The Courier-Mail - - FEDERAL POLITICS - EX­CLU­SIVE STEVEN SCOTT

AUS­TRALIANS’ ap­petite for co­caine has soared in re­cent years, with use of the drug al­most dou­bling since 2016 and po­lice seizures in­creas­ing six-fold.

The sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in co­caine use is re­vealed in a report on il­licit drugs to be re­leased by the Aus­tralian Crim­i­nal In­tel­li­gence Com­mis­sion to­day.

Data com­piled by the com­mis­sion re­veals a rapidly ex­pand­ing mar­ket for co­caine in Aus­tralia de­spite users pay­ing some of the high­est prices in the world.

The report – which com­piles fig­ures on ar­rests, de­tec­tion, seizure, pu­rity, pro­fil­ing and price – found a record 27.4 tonnes of il­licit drugs were seized and a record 154,650 peo­ple ar­rested in 2016-17.

Cannabis is the most widely used il­licit drug in Aus­tralia and ice re­mains a “large and in­tractable” prob­lem, while the mar­ket for heroin “re­mains rel­a­tively small and sta­ble”, ac­cord­ing to the report.

Abuse of pre­scrip­tion opi­oids such as fen­tanyl de­clined slightly across Aus­tralia in 2016-17, but au­thor­i­ties are brac­ing for an in­crease, fol­low­ing a ris­ing trend in the US.

Queens­land has be­come the steroid cap­i­tal of Aus­tralia, with the state ac­count­ing for al­most half the drugs by weight seized by po­lice in the coun­try.

The state also had the great­est pro­por­tion of steroid ar­rests, ac­count­ing for more than 55 per cent of sus­pects de­tained across Aus­tralia.

But the spike in co­caine abuse poses the big­gest chal­lenge for po­lice, cus­toms and health au­thor­i­ties, com­mis­sion chief Michael Phelan said.

Co­caine seizures and ar­rests hit a record high in 2016-17, which is the most re­cent pe­riod mea­sured by the data.

A record 3366 peo­ple were ar­rested in re­la­tion to co­caine of­fences in 2016-17, which is the sixth con­sec­u­tive an­nual in­crease.

More than 4.6 tonnes of co­caine, worth an es­ti­mated street value of $1.7 bil­lion, was seized in Aus­tralia in 2016-17, but this is only a frac­tion of the amount that has made its way into the com­mu­nity.

Waste­water anal­y­sis found co­caine use had al­most dou­bled since the test­ing pro­gram be­gan in Au­gust 2016, with rises in both cap­i­tal cities and re­gional ar­eas.

“Co­caine use in Aus­tralia causes mis­ery to peo­ple in source coun­tries – Colom­bia, Bo­livia and Peru – and in other re­gions af­fected by the co­caine trade, in­clud­ing Mex­ico and coun­tries in Cen­tral Amer­ica,” Mr Phelan said.

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