Benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid misuse and their relationship to crime

Tasmanian Report

Monograph no. 22

Raimondo Bruno

The purpose of this major research project was to contribute to law enforcement sector understanding of the relationship between benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid misuse and crime in three select Australian jurisdictions (Victoria, Tasmania, Northern Territory) where there is evidence of illicit prescription pharmaceutical markets. This report focuses on the Tasmanian aspect of the study. While the primary focus of the study remains on law enforcement interests in relation to licit and illicit benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid markets, these are discussed in relation to the broader public health implications of supply reduction efforts in a harm minimisation framework.

The primary aims of the study therefore were to:

  1. gain a greater understanding of illicit benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid marketplace dimensions and characteristics;
  2. investigate the hypothesised relationship between benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid misuse and crime;
  3. explore the implications for police and other frontline workers (e.g. accident and emergency staff, ambulance officers and health/youth workers) of emergent markets for benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioids; and
  4. consider appropriate interventions to address both the law enforcement and health impacts of benzodiazepine and pharmaceutical opioid misuse.

A secondary broader aim of the research was to examine the nexus between prescribed pharmaceutical misuse, illicit prescription pharmaceutical markets, crime and health harms. The design for this study was based on that of the Illicit Drug Reporting Service, and comprised a triangulation of methodologies: interviews with key informants recruited from law enforcement and health providers (KI); interviews with people who inject drugs (PWID); and analysis of secondary data indicators relevant to prescription drugs use. The research demonstrated that misuse and injecting of benzodiazepines and pharmaceutical opioids has become entrenched among some groups of PWID in Tasmania. The findings suggest that the drugs are diverted to the black market and can be sold for considerable profit, and are relatively easy to obtain on the street. They also suggest criminal behaviour may be related to the dependence on, and the use of, prescription drugs. In addition, uninhibited, aggressive, and bizarre behaviour, and feelings of invincibility, were attributed to the drugs, in particular benzodiazepines.