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Australian police just put up the street price of illegal drugs

Crystal meth. Photo: Getty Images

Australian Federal Police’s seizure of 720 litres of liquid methamphetamine in a shipment from Asia was a big talking point yesterday, especially the astronomical value of the illegal drugs.

“This has resulted in 3.6 million hits of ice being taken off the streets with value of $1.26 million dollars,” federal justice minister Michael Keenan said at the announcement.

Four Hong Kong nationals, three men aged 33, 37 and 59, and a woman aged 52, were arrested and charged with allegedly importing the drugs, which were hidden inside liquid bra boosters and children’s colouring-in sets.

But the estimated value of the drugs raised a few eyebrows, especially when only a few months earlier, the second largest seizure of ice in the nation’s history, 849kg, and 1917kg of MDMA (ecstasy) – 2.8 tonnes in total – was nabbed by the AFP and given a value of $1.5 billion.

Something didn’t seem to add up if you compared to two calculations, especially when in early January, the AFP arrested an Adelaide man who allegedly had 60kg of methamphetamine, and they estimated the street value at $40 million.

The price of the drug appeared to treble in just a few weeks. Clarification was sought at the media conference announcing the seizure today.

The AFP explained that it used the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) illicit drug data report (IDDR) to calculate the value and broke down the drugs into individual street deals of 00.1 gram and multiplied that to arrive at the $1.26 million figure.

First they calculated the 720 litres of liquid methamphetamine would produce 504kg of ice, then, with remarkable efficiency, produced 10,000 street hits per kilo – ie 5.04 million hits deals from shipment.

Then, by the AFP’s calculation, they’d be sold at $250 a deal.

Either way, the numbers appear to contradict Keenan’s “3.6 million hits of ice”, which effectively prices them at $400 each to reach $1.26 billion.

The Huffington Post’s Josh Butler dug a little deeper, pointing out that the ACC’s IDDR put the street price of ice at between $50 and $250, although hits are selling for as little as $40 each.

The ACC’s 2015 report puts the average street price at $US500 per gram – roughly around $AU700 depending on the Australian dollar, but that means the average price is $70 a deal, still well below the $250 price the federal police and the minister cited.

ABC Radio’s PM host, Mark Colvin, also kept pressing on the matter and the AFP revealed that they’d moved to “standardise” the price estimates for street drugs and moved from the mid to the upper range of the estimates.

The decision moved the price for police estimates from around $700,000 per kilo last month to $2.5 million kg in February.

Under the old calculations, the bust would have been worth $350 million. Alternatively, the November seizure of 849kg would be worth around $2.1 billion using the AFP’s new upper range calculation.

Irrespective of the value, the good news is that the drugs are off the street, however, suddenly raising the price to create a $1 billion headline does make law enforcement officials look prone a little to exaggeration.

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