Monograph no. 4

The course and consequences of the heroin shortage in New South Wales

This report presents the findings of the New South Wales component of a national investigation into the heroin shortage which began in early 2001. While the heroin market in New South Wales appears to have stabilised following the shortage, it has not returned to pre shortage levels and heroin purity remains low. The report examines the New South Wales impacts of the heroin shortage in terms of changes in patterns of drug use and the number of heroin users; changes in injecting drug use; changes in health effects of drug use and drug treatment; changes in drug crime and in crime associated with drugs; impact on law enforcement operations; and changes in health agency operations. The analysis finds that following the heroin shortage in New South Wales there was a decrease in heroin use, a decrease in the distribution of needles and syringes and probably also in the number of injecting drug users; a decrease in fatal and non fatal heroin overdoses; a clear increase in the use of psychostimulants, particularly cocaine; an overall increase in admissions for cocaine overdose and a brief increase in the number of drug induced psychoses; increased treatment episodes for psychostimulant use among younger people; increased levels of crime and aggression for those who continued to use heroin and other drugs; and short term increases in illicit sex work and acquisitive crime, offset by an apparent overall sustained decrease in acquisitive crime.

Monograph no. 3

The causes, course and consequences of the heroin shortage in Australia

In early 2001, Australia experienced an abrupt and substantial reduction in the availability of heroin. This study was commissioned by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund to provide a detailed description of the course of the heroin shortage, a comprehensive analysis of its effects and an examination of the factors contributing to its occurrence. The study is based on a number of data sources, including interviews with regular heroin users and key informants and indicator data such as arrests and overdose deaths, and includes a focused examination of drug markets in three jurisdictions: New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The study finds that the heroin shortage was probably due to a combination of market and law enforcement factors, and that the market now appears to have stabilised, though it has not returned to its pre 2001 levels. The consequences of the heroin shortage included changes in patterns of drug use, including a switch to other drugs; a decrease in acquisitive crime; a decrease in fatal and non fatal overdoses; mixed health effects for different groups of heroin users; changed demands on health and drug treatment services; and an increase in incidents involving violent and aggressive individuals, following greater use of cocaine and methamphetamine. The study also considers the policy implications of the reduction in heroin supply in Australia. The most important implication of the heroin shortage is that it is possible, under some circumstances, for law enforcement to accomplish a substantial reduction in the availability of imported drugs like heroin. However it is uncertain to what degree the reduction achieved in heroin supply in 2000 could be easily reproduced by an act of policy.

Monograph no. 2

The role of police in preventing and minimising illicit drug use and its harms

The objective of this research project was to increase the understanding of Australian police, at the policy, planning and operational levels, of ways in which they can contribute to the outcomes sought by the National Drug Strategy in the strategic areas of harm reduction and demand reduction. Four specific areas considered by the project are: preventing and minimising the impact of drug overdoses; encouraging safer illicit drug-use practice; encouraging entry into drug-treatment programs; and reducing the demand for illicit drugs (including those strategies aimed at reducing the uptake of illicit drugs). Supply reduction strategies were also investigated for their effect upon drug demand and harms. The project included a review of research literature and national consultations with police, the health sector, user representatives, criminologists and other key informants. This report discusses the findings from the literature review and consultations, on police strategies for preventing illicit drug use and minimising its harms; influences on the police in these activities; differences between jurisdictions; harm reduction and demand reduction outcomes; police strategies relevant to multiple areas of harm reduction and demand reduction; and work with minority populations.

Monograph no. 1

The methamphetamine situation in Australia: A review of routine data sources

This report documents what is known about the methamphetamine situation in Australia through an analysis of routinely collected data sources. Information relating to methamphetamine is summarised for the following issues: prevalence of use among the general and student population; use patterns among party drug users, injecting drug users and offenders; treatment demand; hospital service utilisation for mental and behavioural problems due to stimulants (including psychosis); mortality due to poisoning or overdose; arrest and seizure data for domestic arrests and seizures, domestic clandestine laboratory seizures and import seizures; purity for domestic seizures; and street level prices and availability among party drug users and injecting drug users. The analysis shows that currently 'amphetamines' (predominantly methamphetamine) are the second most commonly used illicit drug type after cannabis, with 9% of Australians having ever tried these drugs. Methamphetamine use and supply has increased in Australia from around 1998-1999, and this increase has co occurred with an increase in related problems such as stimulant induced psychosis.