September 1, 2021
Alexander Angel-Graham

According to a recent report published by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) the Covid-19 pandemic has created major disruptions in the methamphetamine market across Australia.

The report attributes this turmoil to government restrictions on international passengers and domestic lockdowns across the country.

Australian capital cities have experienced both an overall decrease in methamphetamine use as well as a significant reduction in its quality.

According to the report there has been a significant reduction in methamphetamine’s availability, its purity and the number of people who are selling the drug.

Despite these reductions the demand for methamphetamine remains high and several major Australian cities have experienced a significant increase in the price of the illicit drug.

How much does methamphetamine typically cost for the consumer?

Prior to the pandemic the cost per ‘point’ of methamphetamine typically ranged between $17.50 – $50.00.

A point is slang for .1 gram of the drug.

Up until the start of the pandemic the price of a point of methamphetamine had continued to remain steady in the preceding decade, ranging from $50 to $200.

The median price in 2018 was $75.

These average costs were based on the self-reports of clients of drug and health services and  police detainees.

Price increases

The AIC report found that the price of .1 of a gram of methamphetamine  had risen to as high as $250 in some locations.

This was based on the self-reports of police detainees.

In many major cities this represented a severalfold increase to previous average prices.

How is methamphetamine smuggled into Australia?

The most commonly detected means of methamphetamine entering Australia is by way of mail.

According to the last published Illicit Drug Data report published in 2020 by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, over 80% of Amphetamine-type stimulants (a group of stimulants which includes methamphetamine) enter Australia this way.

The study also reported that air cargo accounts for around 12% of detections, with air passenger (2%) and sea cargo (less than 1%) being the least means of detection.

Sea cargo, however, accounted for the greatest proportion of detections by weight.

Which countries does it come from?

Thailand has been identified as the primary embarkation point for methamphetamine traffickers to Australia.

Other countries identified include Mexico, the USA, Singapore, Canada, Malaysia, Laos, Germany, India and China.

Population use of methamphetamine in Australia

To get the best picture of the consumption of methamphetamine in Australia requires an analysis of data from waste water and the self-reports of drug users.

The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) collects wastewater form major cities and regional sites across Australia on a regular basis.

According to their data and the substances they monitor methamphetamine is the most consumed illicit drug by a sizeable  measure.

ACIC estimates that in 2020 over 11 tonnes of methamphetamine was consumed in Australia.

The Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey (ANSPS)  reports that from 1994 to 2014 methamphetamine had overtaken heroin as the most commonly reported drug last injected by intravenous drug users.

In Australia cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug, followed by cocaine.

In 2019 a national survey released that around 3.4 million Australians reported using an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

How is methamphetamine produced?

The manufacture of methamphetamine is illegal in Australia.  However, the manufacture of the drug is not difficult and is relatively easy to produce.

There are numerous websites online which outline its production. This makes the private manufacture of the drug all the more easier. Indeed the vast majority of detected illegal laboratories are small scale and addict-based.

The ingredients to produce the drug include many over-the-counter medicines, including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. These can be found in common medications used to treat colds and weight loss.

Typically the manufacturing of Methamphetamine involves:

  • Extraction  –  this is where ingredients are taken from other chemicals or plants.
  • Conversion – where one chemical is changed into another chemical form.
  • Synthesis – where the chemicals are integrated and turned into the finished product.
  • Tableting – where the final product is put into dosage units (e.g. tablets)

In most cases ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is mixed with water and then a solvent, like gasoline, is added. Methamphetamine is then extracted. The mixture is heated such that it then crystallises.

Because there is no quality control associated with the private production of methamphetamine, the manufacturing of the drug can involve use of various toxic materials in this process, which can result in serious detrimental effects on the user.

Domestic Clandestine Laboratories

Methamphetamine remains the dominant drug produced in clandestine laboratories which are detected nationally across Australia.

These labs are used to produce illicit drugs.

They can range in their sophistication from small scale set-ups to larger more sophisticated operations on an industrial scale.

Over the last decade, however, the number of clandestine laboratories that produce methamphetamine that have been detected nationally has decreased by over 70%.

The majority of these detected laboratories are small scale in nature (addict-based) and are located in residential address areas.

Purity and Availability

For the past decade the purity of methamphetamine has remained consistently low, ranging from between 1 per cent and 78%.

A national survey conducted in 2019 amongst people who regularly inject drugs, 95% respondents reported that crystal methamphetamine was ‘very easy’ to get.

Police Arrests

In the period 2018-2019 there were over 45,000 arrests in relation to Amphetamine-type stimulants.

88% of those arrested were consumers.

Harm Reduction and Drug Testing

A drug testing kit can provide information on the presence and purity of a drug.

In Australia the availability of these testing kits is a hot topic, especially at music festivals.

There are a range of companies online who can provide this technology.