Australian Drug Use Fell During First Wave of the Pandemic


There aren’t a lot of positives during this COVID-19 pandemic, but here’s the results of a study that may surprise you. The study entitled “The impact of COVID-19 controls on the use of illicit drugs and alcohol in Australia” was recently published in the scientific publication, Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

It turns out that in order to track illicit drug use in Australia, researchers take wastewater samples every two months from 20 treatment plants across the country. This wastewater is a by-product from approximately half the population, and is tested for methamphetamine (ice), MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, cannabis and alcohol.

The published study compared samples that were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic (August 2016 - December 2019) with those taken between February and June 2020 when Australia went into a national lockdown.

Here are the results by drug:

Ice: WA recorded the largest drop in ice loads, falling more than 50 per cent between April and June 2020, attributed to border closures restricting imports. In fact, ice use plunged across Australia during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Cannabis: Cannabis use spiked across the county, with researchers hypothesising that this was because cannabis is largely produced locally so supplies were still plentiful. However, the NT experienced a large increase in the use of this drug.

Cocaine: Researchers found that approximately half of Australia’s cocaine users stopped using the party drug, or cut down drastically, during the lockdown when global supply lines were disrupted. This was reflected in the wastewater loads but once restrictions were eased, cocaine use returned to pre-pandemic levels. A similar pattern was seen with ecstasy use.

Alcohol: People in SA, NSW, and NT drank significantly less during lockdown. This was attributed to the closure of bars, hotels, nightclubs and social gatherings curtailing the normal weekend spike. However, restrictions were eased, alcohol use spiked, particularly in the NT, which came out of lockdown earlier than the other states.

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