In 2004, only one percent of the Australian population said they’d used coke in the previous 12 months. Thirteen years later, in June 2017, that number had more than doubled to 2.5 percent. And sure, you’re thinking, pffftt—2.5 percent! That's not much. But it’s an increase from 170,000 people to 600,000 people, making coke the second most popular drug in the country.
Now, imagine everyone on the Gold Coast and a lot of Tweed Heads doing a bump at the same time. That’s what 600,000 people looks like. And this is especially remarkable when you consider that Australia has the second most expensive gear on the planet, behind only Kuwait where it’s $330 a gram.
So why is coke experiencing a 15-year high? Well, basically because it’s cool again. And to substantiate a non-scientific statement like that, let’s start with some wastewater analysis.
In 2017 the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission released their third report on drugs in our nation's sewage. What that means is that the human body doesn’t just make narcotic compounds disappear. Coke goes in through the nose, gets processed by the liver, and exits the body to end up in our city’s wastewater systems, where it provides government analysts with a fairly accurate picture of how much people are taking and where.
In November they observed this: “Cocaine consumption in Australia is mostly centred in New South Wales across several capital city and regional sites. Levels in the Australian Capital Territory have increased to become second highest in the nation.”
What that means is that coke use in Sydney is almost seven times higher than the national average, confirming suspicions that have filled the city’s papers for a while.
"I couldn't believe it,” one anonymous mother told the Daily Mail back in 2014. “Here were all these gorgeous women with kids and these 4WDs and they're having coke before doing the school run. And they're all telling me: 'It's OK, we do it all the time'."
This quote appeared in article detailing how coke use in Sydney was “soaring.”
But what’s interesting that the second highest coke-guzzling city in Australia isn’t Melbourne—which would make sense given its population —but Canberra, where usage isn’t much behind Sydney's. And what’s Canberra’s permanent population? 390,000, less than one tenth that of Sydney's.
So why Sydney and Canberra? Is it just a coincidence they’re our biggest coke markets? And is it just a coincidence that people in these cities have a fairly strong lust for status, which is basically what a $300 baggie represents?
And I’m not the first person to imply coke use is about coolness, obviously. A fairly glitzy rehab centre in Brisbane called The Banyans recently published a press release/article titled Cocaine is the Drug of Choice for Australia’s C-Level Executives. The centre’s medical director was quoted as describing coke as carrying “a sense of glamour and elite exclusivity,” similar to that of a fine wine.
“Many of the individuals misusing cocaine in the C-Suite level of businesses are very intelligent, articulate people who are driven to achieve outcomes," he explained. "These people may not even be aware of their dependency issues, as they will feel like they are keeping their head above the water, so to speak.”
So yes, federal advisors and cool agency types are doing more coke than they used to, and that’s despite the fact our coke is extortionately expensive and made of talcum powder. And ironically, nowhere is that more true than in Canberra—where the latest report found baggies contain no more than 52.4 percent cocaine.
Julian is on Twitter