How much are illicitly obtained pharmaceuticals?


two guys in hoodies doing drug deal

Opioids and benzos for illicit use are easy to obtain, a new report has found… and while personal importation numbers are small, they’re increasing

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released the fifteenth edition of the Illicit Drug Data Report, which focuses primarily on illicit substances such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin, but also examines the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals including opioids, benzodiazepines and steroids.

Drawing on a wide range of input from sources including wastewater analysis, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and law enforcement and border control data, the report sets out the price of pharmaceuticals obtained for non-medical use.

Domestically, law enforcement data is limited, it says, but nationally, the price for a single 100mg tablet of MS Contin in 2016-7 ranged from $30 to $100, compared with a price range between $30 and $150 in 2015-6.

The price for a single 100mg tablet of OxyContin ranged between $30 and $150 in 2016.

NSW was the only state to report the price for a single 100 microgram patch of fentanyl in 2016-7 – between $50 and $400.

Queensland and South Australia were the only states to report a price for a single benzodiazepine tablet, which ranged between $10 and $25 in 2016-7.

The report cited a 2016 national study of regular injecting drug users, which showed that between 2015 and 2016 the proportion of respondents reported illicit oxycodone as “easy” or “very easy” to obtain increased, from 64% in 2015 to 69% in 2016, though this dropped back to 60% in 2017.

The same study also asked respondents about morphine, which was easy or very easy to get for 77% in 2015, dropping to 74% in 2017.

Sources of pharmaceuticals for non-medical use included family and friends with legitimate prescriptions, forged prescriptions, over-prescribing and doctor shopping, online pharmacies, theft from hospitals or pharmacies, and health care professionals self-prescribing or misappropriating medication.

When individuals import benzodiazepines or opioids, this is done primarily for personal use and without serious criminal intent – and the ability to get around the need for a prescription is a key reason.

Lower cost and anonymity are further reasons why Australians buy opioids and benzodiazepines from overseas suppliers.

“The total number of benzodiazepine and opioid pharmaceutical detections at the Australian border increased 3.3% this reporting period, from 2,492 in 2015-6 to 574 in 2016-7,” the report states.

Incidents of benzodiazepine detections at the border grew 0.2%, from 2,399 in 2015-6 to 2,404 in 2016-7, while opioid detections increased 82.8%, from 93 in 2015-6 to 170 in 2016-7.

Detected opioids included morphine, buprenorphine, methadone and oxycodone.

The proportion of Australians aged 14 and over who reported the non-medical use of any prescription pharmaceuticals at least once in their lifetime grew from 7.3% in 2013 to 12.8% in 2016.

A 2016 national study of regular injecting drug users found, however, that recent use of pharmaceuticals has dropped overall, the study found.

The recent use of any form (licit or illicit) of benzodiazepines dropped from 60% in 2015 to 57% in 2016, and again to 50% in 2017; meanwhile the use of buprenorphine (licit or illicit) has remained stable at 14% since 2015.

The reported use of any form of methadone decreased from 41% in 2015 to 39% in 2016 and 37% in 2017, while the recent use of oxycodone and morphine (any form) also decreased, as did the recent use of any pharmaceutical stimulants.

There was a more mixed picture for regular ecstasy users, whose recent benzodiazepine use (licit or illicit) grew from 32% to 42% between 2015 and 2017, while buprenorphine and methadone use remained stable.

The report cited wastewater analysis data which showed that the estimated average consumption of both oxycodone and fentanyl was higher in regional areas than in capital city sites; aside from a few exceptions (such as regional Northern Territory sites for oxycodone), reported overall consumption of these two drops decreased between 2016 and 2017.

The report also looked at steroids and hormones, finding that border detections were dropping for steroids – from 5,502 detections in 2015-6 to 4,918 in 2016-7 – but increased 1.1% for hormones, from 1,375 in 2015-6 to 1,390 in 2016-7.

Again, price data was limited, but Queensland and Tasmania reported that the price for a single 10 millilitre vial of testosterone enanthate remained stable, ranging between $130 and $250 in 2016-7.

The price for a single 10 millilitre vial of Sustanon 250 ranged between $150 and $250, the same as the range for 10mL testosterone propionate or Deca-durabolin.

Read the full report here.

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