Australia Today

Australians Take $9 Billion Worth of Drugs a Year, According to Poo Samples

The latest wastewater results reveal the true extent of Australia's passion for getting high.

by Gavin Butler
20 February 2019, 6:11pm

Image via Flickr user Marco Verch, CC licence 2.0 (L); Wikimedia user Stilfehler, CC licence 3.0 (R)

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission released the sixth report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program this morning—concluding two years of sewage testing to see what drugs Australians are taking, and passing through their bodies into the nation's toilets. The report sheds some valuable insight into Australia’s zeal for drug-taking: some of it surprising, some of it not, and most of it, frankly, a bit depressing.

For example: we spend more than $9.3 billion a year on drugs. That equates to an estimated annual consumption of more than 9.6 tonnes of methylamphetamine, more than 4 tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA, and more than 700 kilos of heroin nationwide. And Michael Phelan, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer, thinks that’s pretty outrageous.

“It is astounding that Australians waste over $9.3 billion a year on drugs,” he said. “This is money people could be spending on legitimate goods for themselves and their families.”

If you live in New South Wales, a lot of that money was probably spent on coke—with the state continuing to report the highest average cocaine consumption in both capital city and regional sites out of anywhere in the country—while citizens of Australia’s Capital Territory probably blew a fair amount of that on opioids. Victoria is responsible for the nation’s highest heroin use in capital cities, while the nation’s highest cannabis use in capital cities is happening in Tasmania. And more people are using alcohol and nicotine in Western Australia than anywhere else.

For the most part, Phelan’s right: $9.3 billion is an astounding amount of money to spend on getting high. Distributed across Australia’s entire population of almost 25 million people that works out to be a national average of $370 per capita—and that's including children and infants, who presumably aren't contributing to the wastewater data. In the United States, where the population is thought to spend about $109 billion USD a year, the expenditure per person equates to about $332; while in Europe, where the population spends an estimated 31 billion euros on drugs a year, that amount is only about 42 euros. And yes, Australia has some of the most expensive drugs in the world, but the fact remains that we’re choosing to sink a whole lot of our funds into illicit substances.

On the one hand, the population-weighted average consumption of MDMA in both capital cities and regional sites seems to have decreased compared to the year before—possibly as a result of recent overdoses in the media, and increasing concern over the contents and purity of ecstasy pills. On the other hand, consumption of cocaine, fentanyl, nicotine, and alcohol in both capital city and regional sites increased, and a disturbing amount of Australians are still using massive amounts of ice. In every state across the country, methylamphetamine was the most commonly used drug (notwithstanding cannabis, for which reliable dose figures were not available).

The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program has set out to release a total of nine public reports over a three-year period, with three reports released per annum.

Follow Gavin on Twitter or Instagram

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.