Australia’s drug use – scarier than Halloween

The Australian Federal Police will release a new social media campaign on Halloween to highlight the real horror of illicit drug use, including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

The Have a Conscience campaign outlines how Australian drug users could be bankrolling drug syndicates responsible for overseas human trafficking and sexual servitude, plus contributing to significant environmental damage in some of the world's most pristine forests.

The campaign aims to challenge the perception that cocaine is a harmless drug. It also highlights the lesser known dangers of chronic cocaine use, such as lowering sperm count.

The AFP, working with Commonwealth and state partners, seized 38.4 tonnes of illicit drugs and precursors in 2020-2021. That is the equivalent of about 71 full concert grand pianos.

Apart from the forgotten victims and lesser-known impacts of illicit drug trafficking, the AFP is today warning that transnational serious organised criminals (TSOC), will change the way Australians live if demand for illicit drugs is not drastically reduced.

TSOC, including outlaw motorcycle gangs, cartels, triads and Italian organised crime, are trafficking drugs to Australia at an alarming rate because Australia is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell illicit drugs.

Some of these syndicates order executions in Australia to protect their illicit drug trafficking business but also kill innocent Australians who are caught in their wars.

Violence in Australian suburbs, perpetrated by outlaw motorcycle gangs and other syndicates, are often linked illicit drug trafficking.

Profitable illicit drug use facilitates corruption, undermines Australia's economy and social security system.

Illicit drug use makes our roads and suburbs more dangerous and puts at risk the lives of first responders and frontline workers. Nurses, paramedics, teachers and state police colleagues are faced daily with the dangers of individuals high on illicit drugs.

AFP Eastern Commander of Investigations Kirsty Schofield said the AFP's maxim was Policing for a Safer Australia, which was why drug harm minimisation was a priority for the AFP.

"The best day for law enforcement will be when there's no more demand for drugs in Australia,'' Commander Schofield said.

"Australia is a great country and the way we live should be jealously guarded.

"If demand for illicit drugs is not curtailed in Australia, we risk losing what makes Australia one of the safest countries in the world.

"We do not want to have the corruption issues faced by some other parts of the world.

"The AFP is launching this campaign to remind Australians that their actions, whether it is casual drug or repeated drug use, have significant and devastating consequences.

"There's a perception that cocaine is a safe drug with no victims, but that is not the case,'' Commander Schofield said.

"It is time that we end the myth about cocaine. It is a dangerous drug.

"While cocaine use can damage organs, cause nose deformity and potentially bowel gangrene, many people do not realise chronic cocaine use can lower sperm count.

"In women, it can alter the menstrual cycle and adversely affect ovulation."

Cocaine is also associated with significant adverse health and psychiatric effects, including seizures, cognitive impairment, mood disorders, psychosis, suicidal ideation, coronary artery disease, sudden cardiac death, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections and impaired sexual function.

More than 4 tonnes of cocaine was seized by the AFP in the past financial year.

Commander Schofield said many Australians were committed to protecting the environment.

"The growing of coca leaf, which is used to manufacture cocaine, has been linked to Amazon deforestation. Chemicals and pesticides are used to protect the crops – there is no organically or sustainably-farmed cocaine,'' Commander Schofield said.

"We want to Australians to think about their health but also want them to have a conscience when it comes to illicit drug use.

"We want them to think, `Is my illicit drug use, no matter how regular, contributing to terrible environmental consequences'?"

Commander Schofield said human trafficking in Europe and South America could be linked with other forms of organised crime, such as drug trafficking.

"It's a shocking notion to comprehend, but taking illicit drugs in Australia is potentially bankrolling syndicates that are also responsible for sexual servitude and human trafficking.

 "We want drug users to ask themselves, 'Is my partying putting other women and children across the globe through horrendous circumstances?"

Last year, the AFP seized more than 630kg of heroin, compared to 71 kg in 2019 – almost an 800 per cent increase. In 2020, 5.2 tonnes of methamphetamine was seized by the AFP.

More than 9 tonnes of MDMA has been seized by the AFP between 2014 and 2020.

Commander Schofield said methamphetamine and heroin had devastating consequences on the Australian community, including on the children whose parents were addicted to the illicit drugs.

Heroin is an addictive drug that can cause overdoses and death. On average one person dies for every 2kg of heroin consumed in Australia.

Ice can cause strokes and permanent damage to the heart and brain.

She said while the AFP and its partners would be relentless in its pursuit of transnational serious criminals and other drug syndicates, Australians themselves could help keep loved ones safe.

Acting ACT Policing Chief Police Officer Assistant Commissioner Peter Crozier said police in the ACT knew too well how one person taking drugs had an impact on many people.

"In the past three years, there have been 21 fatal collisions on Canberra's roads. Seven of them involved at least one drug driver,'' Assistant Commissioner Crozier said.

"Have a Conscience. Think of other road users, their families and your family. Don't use drugs then drive."

Northern Territory Police Drug and Organised Crime Division Detective Superintendent Lee Morgan said the distribution and use of illicit drugs in the Northern Territory continued to be a major contributor to anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, property crime and violence related offences, as well as being a significant risk to road safety.

"The NT Police support the AFP's campaign to highlight the seriousness of illicit drug use and we will continue to work in a collaborative manner with the AFP in the fight against drug importation, distribution and use,'' Detective Superintendent Morgan said.

Tasmania Police Assistant Commissioner (Operations) Jonathan Higgins said Tasmania was not immune from these damaging drugs.

"Serious Organised Crime operates in Tasmania and police have made significant seizures of ice and cocaine in recent times.

"We see in real terms the damage that these drugs do to people and families, and the misery they cause".

Note to media:

Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.

Media enquiries

AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297

National Security Hotline

Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

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