Drug use trends in Australia continue to rise despite the impact of COVID-19 and the implementation of lock down measures.
With state and federal governments adopting COVID lock down measures, many people expected that they could help curb drug abuse trends in the country. In theory, the move would severely limit people’s ability to buy and sell drugs especially on the streets.
But a new report from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) paints a drastically different picture from what was expected.
The ACIC released their latest wastewater analysis findings last week. According to the report, COVID-19 restrictions haven’t dampened the prevalence of drug abuse in Australia. Despite the closure of borders and businesses, people continued to use illicit drugs. Interestingly, the report points to government income support payments as the potential driving force behind this trend.
Wastewater analysis: drug use soars
The ACIC’s latest wastewater analysis revealed that capital city cocaine and cannabis use actually soared to record levels during the time of COVID. The same goes for regional crystal meth (ice) and heroin use in the country.
New South Wales had the highest average consumption of cocaine in Australia over the past few months.
Meanwhile, South Australia had the highest average meth consumption and Victoria had the highest average heroin consumption.
‘Business as usual’ for illicit drug markets
The drug monitoring program report also tracked alcohol drinking and smoking habits during the coronavirus pandemic. Alcohol consumption initially dropped after the implementation of lock down measures. But it eventually bounced back as soon as the government eased restrictions. By comparison, nicotine use among Aussies remained stable throughout the period.
ACIC CEO Michael Phelan pointed to the supposed resilience and variety of the illicit drug markets. He described the continued rise in drug use trends in Australia during COVID as ‘business as usual’ for criminal organisations. These groups still import, manufacture and traffic drugs despite the ongoing pandemic.
“Record consumption levels for some drugs are consistent with operational activity in which the ACIC has been involved with its partners,” Mr Phelan said. He added that “even in locations where considerable price increases has been reported, consumption of some drugs has also increased”.
Capital city and regional drug use trends during COVID
Residents in regional areas had higher average consumption for certain drugs compared to those living in cities, according to the ACIC report. Some of the most commonly abused drugs in regional areas include MDMA (ecstasy), MDA, oxycodone, fentanyl, cannabis, alcohol and nicotine.
Meanwhile, city residents had higher average consumption of cocaine and heroin compared to regional residents.
As far as drug use trends per state are concerned, Queensland led the nation in average regional MDMA use. It also came in at second in highest average regional meth and cocaine usage.
The Northern Territory had the highest average alcohol and nicotine consumption. Meanwhile, the Australian Capital Territory had the second-highest average cocaine and cannabis consumption for capital cities.
Hobart in Tasmania recorded the highest capital city use of cannabis and oxycodone in the country.
Meth was one of the most commonly abused drugs even before COVID-19. However, consumption of the drug dropped dramatically in every capital city after the pandemic hit. In Perth, average meth use almost halved during the period.
For the ACIC report, the agency analysed wastewater samples taken from 55 capital city and regional sites in April. This represented about 56% of the Australian population. The ACIC also conducted further monitoring in capital city sites in June.
You can read more about the ACIC’s 11th National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program here.
What do the results mean for companies?
The ACIC cited government income support payments as a potential factor in the upward trend in drug use during COVID. While the exact causes will probably remain a subject of debate, it is clear that drug use has increased, rather than reduced. The illicit drug market also remained relatively unaffected by the pandemic, even though cannabis prices drastically increased in some areas.
For Australian businesses the message is clear. Drug abuse continues unabated during COVID-19 restrictions. So it remains as important as ever to use preventive measures to guard against illicit drug use and drug-related incidents at the workplace.
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