Sydney's cocaine problem is looking like a 'classic epidemic'

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Criminal stats for Australia’s biggest state for the year to September 2015 have just been released. Spot the problem:

Low-level cocaine crime – possession and use – is exploding in what a researcher describes as a “classic epidemic”.

And the numbers for amphetamines, which includes ice, are showing a huge increase of well in excess of 2,000 incidents. There are now 24 amphetamine possession and use incidents in Australia’s biggest state every day – and that’s just what’s being recorded, and it appears it could be linked to the rise in cocaine use as addicts switch to cheaper amphetamines when they run out of money.

Criminal statistics can shift for a number of reasons, including allocations of more police resources to a particular category of crime which pushes up detection rates. But the trend is clear.

“There are a couple of issues behind the increase: as the demand for the drug grows, the purity increases and the price declines — so you get a vicious cycle,” Don Weatherburn, director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research, told Business Insider. “The more that these substances are sold, the smaller the margins are. In addition, more people are competing to sell cocaine and amphetamines leading to a price reduction. It’s like any business, the more people who join the queue, the cheaper it gets.”

The fashionability of cocaine in Sydney’s professional and middle-class has been well-documented, and illustrated in incident’s such as Olympic swimmer Geoff Huegill’s admission to cocaine possession in court after being caught with a small amount of the drug at Randwick Racecourse.

The effects are now showing in the market for the drug and the rise of associated crime. “There’s also the fact that when one person tries it, they introduce it to two friends and those two friends introduce it to another two friends,” Weatherburn said. “It’s a classic epidemic effect. So I would say it’s a combination of spreading social fashion and falling price.”

The rise in amphetamine use might also be related, Weatherburn said. “Cocaine prices are high compared to amphetamines, when people don’t have enough to buy cocaine they turn to amphetamines. This is because cocaine is all imported whereas amphetamines are locally produced.”

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