AS Australia digests news of a $160 million cocaine bust in Queensland, latest national figures show use of the drug has doubled in less than a decade.
Research by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), to be released today, shows a surge in cocaine use at the same time as demand for ecstasy wanes.
The NDARC's Dr Lucy Burns said rising cocaine use was first spotted in NSW in 2009, and this trend had rippled out across the other states and territories during this year.
Cocaine use among recreational drug users is now at its highest since we began monitoring in 2003, said Dr Burns, from the University of NSW.
Frequency of use remains low, however, with most users only reporting using cocaine two to three times in the six months reporting period.
A majority of users, 60 per cent, also reported cocaine was easy or very easy to obtain.
The figures come from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, in which the NDARC interviews almost 700 regular ecstasy users in all Australian states and territories.
It aims to reveal trends among the nation's "poly drug users" - those who take a variety of illegal substances recreationally.
The figures for 2010 show a declining number of those polled nominated ecstasy as their "drug of choice" - 37 per cent, down from 42 per cent in 2009.
More than half (56 per cent) also said they had recently taken ecstasy of "low purity".
Those who reported weekly or greater use of ecstasy during the past six months also fell from 30 per cent to 23 per cent.
Nationally, almost half (48 per cent) of those polled reported recent cocaine use, up from 39 per cent in 2009 and more than double that seen in 2003 (23 per cent) when monitoring of drug use in nightclubs and festivals began.
While the decline in ecstasy use was a positive, Dr Burns said there were increased risks associated with people switching to use of a broader array of drugs.
The synthetic stimulant mephedrone showed up in the survey in significant numbers for the first time with 28 reports in Victoria, 42 in Tasmania but just four in NSW.
Ice use also increased slightly with 17 per cent of those polled recently taking it (still well down on the 52 per cent usage rate seen in 2003) along with LSD (38 per cent up from 34 per cent in 2009) while ketamine and GHB use was stable.
"The risks involved are exacerbated when you are not certain as to the content of the tablet you are taking, or you mix drugs that you are not familiar with," Dr Burns said.
Another NDARC report, the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS), out today shows "stable" use of the highly addictive drugs, such as heroin, and how this type of drug use was often interwoven with crime.
Of drug users polled nationally, 39 per cent admitted to taking part in a serious criminal act during 2010.
This was usually property crime or drug dealing, with those in Victoria most likely to have committed a crime (55 per cent) compared to those over the border in the ACT (22 per cent).
The Australian Federal Police this week announced they had discovered 464 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of $160 million, on a yacht moored in a Brisbane marina.
It was the third biggest cocaine discovery by Australian authorities, and three NSW men are facing charges.
October 15, 2010
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