The first results of a $3.6 million program to test for the presence of drugs in wastewater are expected to show that Australians as a whole now consume more methamphetamine (ice, crystal meth) than they do cocaine, and in most areas also more methamphetamine than ecstasy.
The Australian has learned that figures from the National Wastewater Analysis Drug Monitoring Program are likely to be announced on Sunday.
The program was unveiled by federal Minister for Justice Michael Keenan in August in response to recommendations from the federal government’s ice taskforce.
The study is expected to show that prescription pharmaceuticals such as oxycodone and fentanyl are a major problem in some regional centres in NSW, Queensland and South Australia.
The Northern Territory fared worst in the nation for alcohol consumption, with estimates ranging from 2000 standard drinks per 1000 people per day to as high as 6600 standard drinks per 1000 people during the sampling period, The Australian understands.
The Territory is also understood to have fared badly on tobacco consumption, as have some sites in regional Tasmania and Queensland.
The study is expected to show that although Victoria and the Territory had the highest capital city levels of cocaine detected in wastewater, on average cocaine consumption in Australia was noticeably lower than methamphetamine levels.
Levels of MDMA (also known as ecstasy), while high in certain capital city sites and some regional areas of Queensland and Tasmania, are understood to have generally been lower than those detected for methamphetamine across much of the country.
The NWADMP was announced after a report by the Australian Crime Intelligence commission had shown rises in the number and size of drug seizures and local monitoring trials also suggested drug usage was on the increase.
Traditional methods of judging drug use, such as simply asking users, have been blamed for underestimating the scale of Australia’s drug problem.
The principal of testing wastewater is based on the idea that while people may be able to conceal their habits even from close friends and family, fluids released into sewage systems nonetheless provide telltale signs of community drug-use patterns as a whole.
The study will monitor wastewater from 50 sites across Australia for three years at an expected total cost of expected to cost $3.6 million. Water treatment plant staff are understood to have collected samples over periods of seven days.
A spokeswoman for federal Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, did not respond to a request for comment.
This piece by Amos Aikman was originally published on ‘The Australian’ March 24, 2017.