Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Measuring Drug Use Patterns in Queensland through Wastewater Analysis

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Measuring Drug Use Patterns in Queensland through Wastewater Analysis

Article excerpt

Illicit drug use results in considerable social and economic costs to Australia (Collins & Lapsley 2008) but the magnitude of use is inherently difficult to measure. Besides being a clandestine behaviour, drug use in the community is not static and can peak at certain events (such as music festivals; Hesse, Tutenges & Schliewe 2010) or celebratory times of the year (such as New Year Eve; van Nuijs et al. 201 1). Drug trends are triangulated across monitoring systems that employ different research methods and a mix of strengths with respect to, among other things, timeliness, reliability, drug-specificity and sample size (see Griffith & Mounteney 2010).

Metrics regarding the illicit drug market are relevant to the Australian Government's National Drug Strategy 2010-2015 (MCDS 201 1). The quantity of drugs consumed by users reflects the total Australian supply minus that intercepted by law enforcement agencies at borders and within the country. It is possible that drug consumption may increase despite increased interception if the total Australian supply increases by a greater amount and the market takes advantage of the net increase in supply. Quantitative law enforcement seizure data are readily obtained from publications such as those provided by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC 201 1). A range of monitoring instruments (a number of which are described in this article) are also able to indicate long term trends and preferences in consumption; however, measures of the total quantity of drugs consumed in a community are as yet unavailable. This article describes a way of collecting these consumption data.

A key monitoring system in Australia is the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), which interviews over 25,000 participants (aged 14 years or older) and is conducted every three years (AIHW 201 1). The NDSHS is Australia's leading indicator of the prevalence of illicit drug use in the community. Although the NDSHS is expensive and possibly underestimates the true use by the general population of illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, it nevertheless provides a valuable indication of the relative prevalence of the use of different drugs as well as binge drinking (Hall & Degenhardt 2009).

The Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) collates information from a variety of sources, including drug-related arrest and seizure data, hospital data and interviews with injecting drug users, as well as key experts from health and law enforcement agencies (Stafford & Burns 2011). Comparatively inexpensive, the particular strength of the IDRS has been to monitor national trends in the use of injectable illicit drugs, including heroin, cocaine and meth amphetamine (Hall & Degenhardt 2009). The Ecstasy and Related Drug Reporting System (EDRS) augments the IDRS by interviewing frequent consumers of ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA), who provide richer data regarding substances sometimes classified as 'club drugs' such as MDMA and GHB (gammahydroxybutyric acid; Black et al. 2008). Finally, the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program monitors drug use by arrestees through quarterly urinalysis and survey data in six Australian jurisdictions (Gaffney et al. 2010). DUMA plays a critical role in monitoring harms that impact the community through the drug-crime nexus.

Due to its focus on the general population, NDSHS necessarily reports lower rates of drug use compared with IDRS, EDRS and DUMA. The systems also differ regarding the relative prevalence or 'ranking' of the major drug types as presented in Table 1 , reflecting the particular focus of the sampling in each study.

Table 1 shows the predominance of cannabis. Methamphetamine use appears relatively high among the special cohorts, but lower than MDMA in NDSHS. Cocaine use is ranked second last or last across all monitoring systems. It is possible that this represents an underestimation of the true extent of cocaine use in the community. …

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