Sunday, 22 June 2008

Drug Seizure Success is Laughable

‘Record drug seizures hit heroin supplies’ scream the headline in the Herald-Sun. 

The problem is that the amount of heroin seized in a year is less than 4 days* of Australia’s consumption ... and the number of seizures has nearly doubled from the previous year. Maybe the success is relative to how gullible the pollies think we are.

The HeraldSun article, Record drug seizures hit heroin supplies, highlights the supposed success of Australia’s tough border protection after a report titled the Australian Crime Commission into illicit drugs was released. The article has several unsurprising responses from officials that might be construed as clouding reality a little.

Crime Commission chief executive Alastair Milroy said more drugs were being detected by police and Customs before they entered the country.

"The greater level of co-op-eration and the greater emphasis on intelligence collection has led to the significant seizures, both at the border and offshore," he said.


85 Kg of heroin was the new record seizure rate for Australia at the borders. That’s an increase of 79% in 2006-7 compared to the previous year. Impressed? Well let’s do some quick calculations. There’s about 50,000 heroin users in Australia and an average usage would be about half a gram per day*. This gives us a daily use of 25Kg. Divide the daily 25Kg into the yearly total of 85Kg and we get 3.4. Which is 3.4 days* out 365 (0.93%).

Doing similar calculations I worked out that the cannabis hauls are even less effective . Seizures of amphetamine type chemicals for ecstasy/ice are slightly higher at about 2-3% of yearly use. Cocaine though has quite a large seizure rate. 

One of the most amazing things about the ecstasy market is that no matter how much of the drug is seized by police, there doesn’t seem to be any significant effect on availability.

-Paul Dillon. Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) - Sydney Star Observer

How much do we spend on drug seizures? Australia spends about $2 billion on drug law enforcement per year and Customs/border protection spending is about a $1 billion per year. The actual break up and exact figures are hard to pin point (for me anyway) as budgets tend to spread spending over 4-5 years and implement strategies at different times. Australian Customs have over 5500 employees and covers 36,000 kilometres of coastline with a maritime area of nearly 15 million square kilometres. 

One thing I do know though is that it seems almost pointless trying to stop drug importation. When the profit margin for heroin is an estimated, 17,000% from poppy to users, no amount of policing will stop the flow. We can’t even stop drugs getting into jails where they search everyone and everything. What chance do we have when over 20 million people annually move through our international airports and seaports and the area to monitor is massive?

Mr Milroy said restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine-based products were helping reduce the local production of amphetamines.

"This is clear from the significant slowdown in the growth of clandestine laboratory detections over the last couple of years compared with the previous decade," he said.


John Howard made a similar claim after heroin peaked and died down back to normal levels. His claim that the government’s  ‘Tough on Drugs’ policies had allowed the AFP and customs to squash the ‘heroin epidemic’, turned out to be false. In fact, whilst patting himself on the back, organised crime in S.E. Asia had swapped production from heroin to amphetamine based drugs like ‘ice’ and speed which somehow was missed by his “tough on Drugs” policies. Oooops.

THE price of heroin is soaring on Melbourne's streets as authorities seize record amounts of the drug at Australia's borders.

The starting price of heroin in Victoria increased from $270 per gram in 2005-06 to $370 in 2006-07.

But cocaine and methamphetamines got cheaper.

The cost of cocaine dropped from about $350 per gram to $300, and the price of MDMA decreased from $21 per tablet to $14 in 2006.


Another myth is that heroin prices are increasing due to a shortage. Today’s prices are still cheaper than pre ‘heroin epidemic’ days. When the increased influx of heroin started in the late 1990s, the price dropped considerably but started drifting back up as heroin supplies returned to normal. Heroin was about $400 a gram before the ‘heroin epidemic’.

The most important feature of the article should be that more than 82,000 Australians were arrested for drug offences in 2006-07.   Most of these are for possession or are user/dealers funding their drug addiction. The financial cost and resources needed to arrest these people are huge and the result is tens of thousands of users with a permanent criminal record or unnecessary jail time. Most of you who read this will have at one time used illegal drugs so imagine for a minute if you were unlucky enough to get caught. Our treasurer, Wayne Swann, Qld premier, Anna Bligh, Environment minister, Peter Garrett, US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, US presidential candidate, Barrack Obama, 32 current British MPs(2007) and others have all used illegal drugs but since they weren’t caught, they went on to be the leaders or potential leaders of a country/state. Some might argue that it’s a pity they weren’t caught and denied the chance to be successful but the game of chance is obviously flawed. There’s a lot at risk and many are denied the chance to fulfil a successful life or career but those who do slip through the net and make it, seem awfully quiet about changing the current system.

1 comment:

The Editor said...

I was talking to someone who has a lot of professional experience around HIV in jails. Apparently it costs us $70,000 per year per person locked in jail.

The prohibition industry is certainly well funded.