Consumption of pharmaceutical opioid fentanyl is rising in regional Australia as alcohol and nicotine use falls to some of the lowest recorded levels.
The use of opioids oxycodone and fentanyl remains much higher in regional areas than in capital cities, according to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program.
Nearly 60 wastewater treatment plants covering a population of 13.9 million Australians were monitored in December 2022 and again in February 2023 at capital city sites for the latest report.
While fentanyl consumption has been rising since April 2022, oxycodone use was at a record low in December 2022.
"The highest consumption of fentanyl was found at some sites in regional NSW and South Australia, while a site in Tasmania had the highest capital city levels," the report said.
However, wastewater testing is unable to differentiate whether the use of prescription opioids is legal or recreational.
Overall, alcohol and nicotine were the most used drugs in Australia despite the record low consumption recorded in December 2022.
Cannabis is the most consumed illicit drug in Australia "by a large margin", followed by methamphetamine.
Ice consumption is very similar across capital cities and the regions while cocaine, heroin and ketamine use was found to be higher in cities.
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According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, factors contributing to substance use in rural and remote areas include distance and social isolation, lower income and education levels and high unemployment particularly among young people.
Access to treatment and health services is also more limited in the regions for those who need it.
Australian ice use third highest per capita
ACIC acting chief executive Matt Rippon said Australia had the third highest consumption of methamphetamine per capita compared with 24 other countries.
The use of other drugs was relatively low except for cannabis where Australia ranked sixth of 16 countries.
The report released on July 11 allowed cannabis to be compared to other major illicit drugs for the first time, by including a dose figure.
However, the monitoring doesn't distinguish between whether the level of drugs detected are due to a lot of users or a few people using a lot.
ACIC conducts the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program to provide intelligence information on drug markets and criminal activity for law enforcement and government stakeholders.
Mr Rippon said Australians continue to be exploited by serious and organised criminals involved in illicit drug trafficking.
"Despite large seizures of some illicit drugs by law enforcement the average consumption of methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, MDA, fentanyl and ketamine has increased in both capital city and regional sites.
"The sole beneficiaries of this increased consumption are serious and organised crime groups which make significant profits from their illegal activities."
- For support or advice, people can visit adf.org.au or call the Alcohol and Drug Foundation's DrugInfo line on 1300 85 85 84.
- If people are worried about their own, or a loved one's alcohol or other drug use, they can visit Path2Help. This tool can connect people with local services in their area that can help them have that initial conversation.