More Australians are using oxycodone and fentanyl than heroin, new data from wastewater analysis suggests

But there has been a gradual reduction in pharmaceutical opioid use in some sites, Australia’s third Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report has shown.

Wastewater analysis is now a standard method of measuring drug use at a population level.

The study focuses on 14 licit and illicit drugs: nicotine (including from tobacco as well as nicotine replacement therapies), alcohol, methylamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and MDA, oxycodone, fentanyl, heroin and the new psychoactive substances JWH-018 and JWH-073 (synthetic cannabinoids) and mephedrone and methylone (synthetic stimulants).

After normalising drug content of wastewater for population size and average dose consumed, alcohol and nicotine were consistently the most consumed drug in all states and territories, the report shows.

Estimated consumption of both was generally higher in regional areas than capital cities, more so for nicotine.

“The Northern Territory had the highest consumption of nicotine and alcohol, but with only two participating sites, the result may not be representative of the Territory as a whole,” the report says.

Oxycodone and fentanyl had elevated consumption levels at several regional sites.

Oxycodone’s average usage in regional areas is almost double that of metropolitan areas. Regional Queensland and parts of Tasmania and Victoria were its highest overall users, while South Australia and Tasmania were highest of the capital city sites.

Fentanyl use varied widely across the nation, with some regional centres in almost every state having values well above the national average.

“It should be noted that recorded usage is predominantly derived from prescription of the substances,” the report notes.

“Regional areas had average oxycodone use well above capital city sites in many states.”

Consumption of the pharmaceutical opioids declined in some regions, however, including the ACT, regional NSW, South Australia and Western Australia.

No state or territory showed year-on-year increases.

Heroin was included in the study for the first time, and its consumption varied widely, from minimal amounts in the Northern Territory to high levels in sites in the ACT and Victoria.

Methylamphetamine sees the highest rate for an illicit drug included in the report, in capital cities and regional sites, with the highest rates seen in metropolitan South Australia and regional Western Australia.

However, current levels of the drug have showed a decline overall over the past year in Queensland and WA, from a historical high in October 2016.

Estimated usage of other stimulants was much lower.

“Despite decreased usage in some states and territories over the 12 months, the national demand for methylamphetamine has not reduced and remains resilient and its ongoing widespread use continues to pose significant challenges for the Australian community,” says Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, who launched the report.