Go to top of page

Feature: Wastewater analysis

Our National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program continued in 2018–19 with the release of the fifth, sixth and seventh in a series of reports.

The program measures drug use across Australia by testing wastewater samples for the metabolites of various legal and illegal drugs. The substances found in wastewater reveal the levels of drug consumption in different regions of the country, enabling governments to direct resources to priority areas. Wastewater analysis also allows us to identify trends and monitor the effectiveness of demand and supply reduction strategies. We commissioned the University of Queensland, and through it the University of South Australia, to undertake the data collection and analysis.

We released the seventh report, the most recent in the series, in June 2019. It reported on analyses of wastewater collected in October and December 2018 from 50 treatment sites in capital cities and regional areas of every state and territory. Based on the 2016 Census, those areas are home to an estimated 12.6 million Australians, or 54 per cent of the population.

The report revealed that methylamphetamine was the most commonly used illicit drug. The highest level of capital city methylamphetamine consumption occurred in South Australia, and the highest regional consumption was found in Western Australia. Overall, methylamphetamine consumption tended to be higher in regional areas than in capital cities.

Regional areas also had higher average consumption of MDMA, cannabis, nicotine and the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl. In contrast, consumption of alcohol, cocaine and heroin was higher in capital cities than in the regions.

Of concern, the analysis also found that heroin use in capital cities had increased, reaching the highest level recorded since the program began in 2016. Consumption of MDMA also reached record levels in both regional and capital city sites.

The report estimated that between August 2017 and August 2018 Australians consumed over 9.8 tonnes of methylamphetamine, 4.1 tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA and 750 kilograms of heroin.

In 2019, our agency received an additional $4.8 million to continue the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program for four more years. The program will continue to produce three reports per year, presenting the best available data to inform government decision-making.