Australians Haven’t Been Using This Much Coke Since 2001

Cocaine use in Australia is the highest it’s been in almost 20 years, according to a new report on the nation’s drug habits.

The Australia Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found, among other things, that between 2016 and 2019 cocaine use was at the highest level researchers had seen since 2001. Over the past 15 years, people who reported using the drug in the previous 12 months has steadily increased from 1 percent of respondents in 2004, to 4.2 percent in 2019.

An increase in use was identified across all age groups 20 years and over—primarily among males—while the proportion of people in their 20s using cocaine between 2016 and 2019 almost doubled (from 10 percent in 2016, to 19.5 percent in 2019).

Cocaine use more than doubled among certain groups as well, including those who had recently completed Year 12 (an increase from 2.8 percent to 6 percent), those who were still in high school (an increase from 0.9 percent to 2.5 percent), couples with dependent children (an increase from 1.6 percent to 3.4 percent), and people in both the lowest and highest socioeconomic areas (an increase from 1.2 percent to 2.5 percent in the former, and 3.3 percent to 6.9 percent in the latter).

These figures are potentially a result of people’s perceptions towards coke changing, as the survey measured a small increase in both the proportion of people who thought cocaine should be legalised, and the proportion of people who approve of the drug being used by adults on a regular basis.

People also did cocaine more often between 2016 and 2019, with the number of respondents who reported using it at least once a month increasing by more than 50 percent. The average age of users was 28, with 24 being the average age of first use.

The ubiquity and availability of cocaine in Australia is likely to be a driving force behind these trends. A recent investigation by VICE found that a steady increase in demand for the drug over the past 20 years has correlated with an uptick in how easy and socially acceptable it is to get a bag. In other words: an abundance of supply, as well as demand, has probably thrown fuel on Australia’s cocaine habit.

“There’s always been a strong demand for cocaine in Australia—but there hasn’t always been the ready supply,” Monica Barratt, a drug researcher at Melbourne’s RMIT University and a fellow at the University of New South Wales’ National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), told VICE over email. Professor Barratt explained that the advent of the darknet has opened the door to cheaper, higher purity drugs being imported into Australia from overseas—effectively flooding the market with good value and readily available cocaine.

“I think [the rising trend reflected in the report] is a case of higher purity, easier availability and lower price (meaning better value for money), combined with a lack of stigma when compared to other stimulants like methamphetamine, that has made cocaine more attractive in recent years.”

Michael Farrell, director of NDARC, echoed this idea.

“It’s a reasonable thing to think that it’s partially supply driven rather than simply demand driven,” he told the ABC. “We have to remember the quote that cocaine is God’s way of telling you, you have too much money.”

The AIHW report delivered a raft of other findings in regards to the Australian population’s drug use behaviours. Ecstasy use among males in their 20s was at a 10-year high in 2019, for example, while the use of illicit drugs in general continued to increase among older age groups—driven by the highest levels of cannabis use since 2001.

Cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, inhalants, ketamine, and steroids all saw an increase in use between 2016 and 2019—both among people who reported using them recently, and those who reported using them at least once in their lifetime. The average age at which people first started using illicit drugs was about 17, with 69 percent of people citing curiosity for the reason.

Cannabis was the drug that was most likely to be tried for the first time among teenagers; ecstasy, methamphetamines, hallucinogens and heroin were among those most likely to be sampled by people in their early 20s; while people in their mid-20s typically tended to start experimenting with cocaine, ketamine, GHB and opioids, before turning to tranquilisers and steroids in their late 20s.

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