Cocaine use reaches record highs

Cocaine use is surging in Australia, according to wastewater analysis compiled by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Cocaine use surging in Australia

Australia’s cocaine use has surged to record highs, according to new analysis from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).

The findings come from city and regional wastewater samples that were collected in December 2023 and February 2024.

ACIC has been studying wastewater samples to report on drug consumption habits since 2016. Its 22nd report was released on Thursday.

Cocaine use surge

National cocaine use in December reached its highest level since ACIC began collecting wastewater samples in 2016.

Cocaine use was generally higher in capital cities than regional areas, and saw a gradual rise from mid-2022 to the end of 2023.

Australia had the second-highest methylamphetamine (ice) consumption per capita compared to 29 other countries across the world.

Other stimulants

MDMA was more popular in capital cities than regional Australia. The highest average MDMA use was found at sites in Sydney and Hobart.

Australia had the fourth-highest illicit stimulant use among 34 countries, according to wastewater samples taken in the second half of 2023.

Alcohol and nicotine

The most popular drugs in Australia.

For the first time since 2018, alcohol was used more often in capital cities than the regions. Total use has been falling over the last two years.

Regional nicotine use is on the rise, and was at record highs in the latest data collection.


The most used illicit drug in Australia, cannabis is 3.6 times more popular than meth (which ranked second).

Cannabis was most used in regional SA and NT, and least in Sydney and Melbourne.

Australia’s cannabis use ranked third-highest out of 20 total countries.


Heroin use was highest in capital cities, led by Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne. However, the highest average heroin detection was at a site in regional Victoria.

Fentanyl and oxycodone use was higher in regional areas than in capital cities. Use was highest in regional Victoria and SA, and in Hobart.


Ketamine use was higher in capital cities than in the regions.

Hobart’s samples showed the highest ketamine levels.

Ketamine can be used as a painkiller for legitimate purposes, though is also used recreationally.

The state of play

ACIC CEO Heather Cook said the findings in the wastewater report showed “resilience” in the drug market and trade, but also noted “points of vulnerability” for illicit drug suppliers that could strengthen law enforcement efforts.

The findings are used by domestic and global law enforcement bodies to understand the effectiveness of pre-existing drug policies, and to consider emerging threats.

The next wastewater report will be released in October.

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