8 November 2023

Wastewater testing reveals Canberrans' drug consumption

| Lizzie Waymouth
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For every 1000 people in the ACT, about seven doses of oxycodone were taken per day, compared with the national average of four. Photo: File.

Canberrans remained the second-highest users of oxycodone and heroin, the latest findings from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program revealed.

Cannabis consumption has also consistently been higher than average in the ACT. In June 2023, average consumption stood at 1800 mg of THC per 1000 people per day. In comparison, the national average was around 1000 mg.

“Cannabis is well above national and capital city consumption,” ACIC Principal Advisor Drugs Shane Neilson told Region.

“If we look back to February 2020 when legislation was introduced to decriminalise cannabis, there has been a 26 per cent increase since then based on data from June 2023.”

The report analyses drug use in Australia by monitoring 55 wastewater sites, including one in the ACT, covering sampling from April and June 2023. The sites cover a total population of 14 million people, equating to more than half of the population and offering a snapshot of drug consumption across the country.

According to the latest report, ketamine consumption across the country in both regional areas and capital cities reached a record high.

However, looking at the ACT in isolation, ketamine use remains relatively low and considerably below the national average.

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More of the pharmaceutical opioid oxycodone has been found in Canberra’s wastewater than the national average in all but two reports since December 2016.

In June, an estimated consumption of seven doses per 1000 people per day in the ACT was recorded. This was a jump from five doses per 1000 people per day in April. In comparison, the national average was four doses in June.

Mr Neilson said oxycodone consumption has been on the rise in Canberra since December 2020, but as it is a substance with legitimate uses, it is difficult to determine the nature of use from wastewater analysis alone.

In Australia as a whole, the average consumption of oxycodone in both capital cities and regional areas has increased since the last report.

Conversely, heroin consumption has fallen across the country, and it has decreased “quite tangibly” in the ACT.

“Even though heroin and oxycodone consumption is relatively high in national terms, heroin consumption decreased considerably,” Mr Neilson said.

“But [ACT use is] still second highest nationally.”

However, on the whole, the report suggests the ACT’s drug use varies substance by substance, Mr Neilson said.

For drugs such as methylamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl and ketamine, the ACT has consistently been below the capital city averages.

“In the case of cocaine, the ACT hasn’t been above the national capital average since early 2021,” he said.

For some drugs, such as ketamine, MDMA and methylamphetamine, the ACT’s consumption has never been above the average for capital cities. MDMA usage, for example, has fallen considerably among Canberrans since 2020.

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New drug decriminalisation laws are now in effect in the ACT, which have changed the penalties applied for possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.

Mr Neilson said ACIC will be watching to see if this impacts drug consumption in the ACT as it continues wastewater testing.

“We will certainly be monitoring the ACT trend over the next few years,” he said.

“We’ve been monitoring the situation with cannabis [since laws were changed to allow possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis per person in 2020] and that has showed us a significant increase.”

“In our view, there’s a link between the level of consumption of illicit drugs and the level of harm to the community,” he said.

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I’d be more interested in seeing the usage rates of Ritalin and SSRIs, given the public service is here.

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