Australia’s problem with widespread cocaine use continues despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sydney police conducted major drug busts related to so-called ‘Dial-a-Dealer’ operations in the city from November to December 2020. Officers seized more than $170,000 worth of illicit drugs including cocaine, cannabis and MDMA. They also arrested 137 people, some of which were professionals with decent jobs.
What’s so alarming about the case is how easy it has become for drug dealers to peddle their wares. Many of them have developed a delivery system where buyers only need to call a designated phone number. Dealers would then bring the drugs to the buyer’s preferred location. This is likely because of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions throughout the country.
Illicit drugs sale through ‘dial-a-dealer’ service
Last year’s drug drug arrests were carried out over four weeks from November to December. During the period, law enforcement seized more than 530g of cocaine, 1kg of cannabis and 19g of MDMA. They also found 16g of ketamine, 21g of LSD, 2g of heroin, 2g of ICE (meth). Overall, the illicit drugs retrieved reached a street value of more than $174,000.
Of the 137 people arrested, 77 of them face drug supply charges while 60 face drug possession charges. Some of those caught in the operation were unemployed individuals. However, police also arrested lawyers and people with corporate jobs.
Police officials believe there has been a significant increase in dial-a-dealer operations after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. More people have resorted to ordering illicit drug supplies over the phone. They would then have the stuff delivered to a location where they could get it safe from the eye of law enforcement.
Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Bell, Squad Commander of Redfern Region Enforcement, couldn’t help but express his disappointment. He said they were once again left astounded by the insatiable demand for prohibited drugs from those across the community. The development comes after what has been a testing year for the people of New South Wales and worldwide.
The drug bust operation primarily targeted low-level drug dealers and buyers in Sydney. However, police have also launched investigations regarding wider criminal networks. They believe majority of those arrested for supplying drugs were operating as part of organised crime syndicates.
You can read more about the drug bust operation in Sydney here.
Cocaine use in the time of COVID-19
NSW police have secured the largest number of arrests in a single operation since Taskforce ‘Strikeforce Northrop’ three years ago. Although cocaine is an imported drug, usage rates have risen steadily over the last five years.
To map the drug use trends, the ACIC commissioned an ongoing series of wastewater analyses from nearly 60 different sites. This included both urban and rural sites. The study – known as the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program – covers more than 13.3 million people. It is equivalent to roughly 57% of the total population in Australia.
In the 9th NWDMP report, researchers found that drug users consumed an average of 4.6 tonnes of cocaine annually. That’s equivalent to 46 million standard 100 mg doses of cocaine for a nation with roughly 25½ million people.
To put it in perspective, the US and Canada consume 196.8 million tonnes of cocaine per annum. This is for a combined population of 368.7 million (UNODC). Despite not having any local supply, per capita cocaine use in Australia grew over the last decade. The figures went from internationally low levels to 30.1% of the North American rate. Unfortunately, the picture has become even worse since then.
The 11th NWDMP report revealed that by June 2020 capital city cocaine use has now climbed to historically unprecedented levels. This comes even after the COVID-19 lockdown during the time.
Cocaine vs ICE
Workplace cocaine use is associated with a similar impairment profile to the strong amphetamine type stimulants. Powder cocaine (the form currently most used in Australia) is less addictive than crystal meth. However, crack cocaine carries much the same addiction impact as ice. There is scope for Australia’s already bad situation with cocaine addiction to worsen.
Unlike meth, cocaine is a prestige drug that carries little social stigma in our country. Many view it as a ‘safer’ alternative to meth, so there is little social pressure to resolve this growing problem. And there are indications that cocaine use might even worsen during COVID-19 if nothing is done about it.
- ACIC National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 9
- ACIC National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 11
- UNODC World Drug Report 2010
- UNODC World Drug Report 2019