Australia Has A Cocaine And Meth Problem, U.N. Says, As Drug Deaths Spike

The alarm has been sounded on Australia's drug problem, with deaths at their highest level since the 1990s plus startling levels of cocaine and methamphetamine use, according to a major United Nations report.

The International Narcotics Control Board -- an independent agency responsible for implementing U.N. drug conventions -- released its annual report on Tuesday.

It found 1808 people died from drug-related deaths in Australia in 2016 -- the highest number since the late 1990s.

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"The deaths were mainly a result of the non-medical use of benzodiazepines and oxycodone," the INCB said.

"Deaths resulting from the use of other controlled substances have also been increasing."

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The INCB said Australia was a lucrative and attractive market for narcotic syndicates due to high drug prices that can be charged.

Some of the report's global findings included:

  • the U.S. opioid overdose epidemic has worsened, with more than 70,000 reported drug overdose deaths in 2017;
  • Cocaine manufacture in South America has increased;
  • 51 new psychoactive substances were detected in Europe in 2017.

Closer to home, the report made several startling findings about Australia's increasing drug problem, and raised concerns over cocaine and methamphetamine.

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It found 2.5 percent of Australians over the age of 15 used cocaine in 2016, with the INCB saying our use of the drug was at "abuse" levels.

"The weight of cocaine seized in Australia also exceeded the total estimated weight of cocaine that would be required to meet the estimated size of the national demand of the substance for abuse," the report warned.

READ MORE: Australians Consumed Four Tonnes Of Cocaine In A Year

The INCB said Australia accounted for 98 percent of cocaine seized in the Oceania region in 2016, with seizures of the drug up 75 percent from 2015.

Cocaine seizures in Australia also more than doubled between 2016 and 2017 with 4.14 tonnes seized over that year.

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Australia was found to have one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the world, and the number of users was growing. The INCB noted Australia's police and border forces continually notching record seizures of the drug and its precursors.

"National wastewater drug monitoring has shown that Australia has become a major consumer of methamphetamine, cocaine and 'ecstasy'," the report said, noting the Australian Federal Police seized 3.5 tonnes of meth between 2016 and 2017.

"This indicates that the strong demand for methamphetamine in the country continues," the report said.

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The report noted other changing features of the Australia drug market including:

  • The quantity of cannabis herb seized increased massively, to 19.2 tonnes in 2017 compared to 11.2 tonnes in 2016.
  • Heroin seizures dropped from 282 kilos in 2015 to 197 in 2016
  • Ecstasy seizures rose "significantly" to 1.3 tonnes in 2016/17 from 0.2 tonnes the previous year.
  • Seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants increased slightly to 7.3 tonnes in 2016-17 from 7.2 tonnes in 2015-16.

Australia's 'lucrative' drug market made the country a highly-desirable place for drug syndicates to bring their products.

The higher prices paid for drugs in Australia act as an incentive for traffickers, despite the country's distance from syndicates in Europe and America, while Australia's size and vast coastlines also make it a target for drug traffickers.

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Despite the issues raised, the INCB noted the Australian government was making "significant efforts" in addressing drug issues, through national drug strategies and particular focus on the drug 'ice'.

Viroj Sumyai, President of the INCB, said it was important for governments to make "effective strategies" for the prevention of drug use and provision of treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration services.

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"Today’s drug control challenges may seem daunting, with an extensive impact on public health and well-being," he said in the report.

"Yet over the past century and since the first intergovernmental meeting on drug control in 1909, such challenges have been successfully overcome through cooperative efforts and political will."