A national wastewater report detecting 12 different licit and illicit drugs has shown consumption in Canberra has increased across the board for most substances.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program‘s latest report detailed data taken in December 2021 and February 2022, as COVID-19 restrictions were being relaxed or removed in most jurisdictions.
Compared to other Australian cities, the ACT had the second highest capital city consumption of heroin and oxycodone.
Average consumption of alcohol, nicotine, methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, MDA, heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl and ketamine all increased.
However average cannabis usage decreased in this period.
ACIC CEO Michael Phelan said the data showed the remnants of COVID-related restrictions did not impact drug markets uniformly across the country.
“Organised crime groups have redoubled their efforts to supply the major illicit drug markets as COVID-19 restrictions eased, generating significant illicit revenue, but they continue to face challenges not least from law enforcement agencies,” he said.
“Our report helps address harmful drug consumption through improving knowledge about these influences so that tailored supply, demand and harm reduction efforts can be developed and implemented by decision-makers on a range of drug and public health issues.”
While the report showed increased consumption of illicit substances across the country, it has not yet reached levels previously recorded either by the program or prior to COVID-19.
However Australia had the highest methylamphetamine consumption per capita when compared with 24 other countries.
In light of the numbers, Shadow Police Minister Jeremy Hanson questioned the ACT Government’s push to decriminalise possession of small amounts of illicit substances, concerned it would lead to “narco tourism” in Canberra.
“Given the damaging effects of heroin and meth on users and the community, it is extraordinary that the Labor/Greens Government plans to increase the availability of these hard drugs by decriminalising them,” he said.
“The ACT Government should instead properly resource drug treatment services which are woefully under resourced and increase the number of police in Canberra, which has the lowest number of officers per capita in Australia.”
However a spokesperson for ACT Health said the report showed a broader national trend of drug and alcohol consumption returning to pre-lockdown levels.
“The previous wastewater report was taken at the start of the second ACT COVID-lockdown in August 2021, which showed a drop in drug consumption due to reduced social opportunities and changes in drug availability,” they said.
“Prior to COVID-19, the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey (2019) indicated that the ACT had the lowest recent use of any illicit drugs of any state or territory.”
The spokesperson said as Canberrans continued to return to their “pre-lockdown social lives”, the government was committed to reducing the harm and demand for drugs through treatment and prevention.
“Since the 2019-20 Budget, the government has invested almost $20 million in new funding to increase the capacity of the ACT treatment system and for harm minimisation,” they said.
“This includes new initiatives in the 2021-22 Budget [such as]: a new, community-led Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residential alcohol and other drug rehabilitation facility in partnership with Winnunga Nimmityjah; a six-month pilot of a fixed site pill testing service that is due to launch this month; expansion of sterile injecting equipment distribution program to prevent the spread of blood borne viruses; and comprehensive treatment for people referred from the ACT Drug and Alcohol Sentencing List.”