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Australian Heroin Drought and its Implications for Drug Policy

NCJ Number
Don Weatherburn; Craig Jones; Karen Freeman; Toni Makkai
Date Published
October 2001
16 pages
This document presents results from a study examining the effects of the 2000 Australian heroin drought.
In December of 2000 a heroin drought was reported in New South Wales and confirmed through a research study completed by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center. A second, more detailed study examined the effects of the heroin drought on heroin use, overdose, expenditures, initiation of methadone treatment, crime rate, and use of other drugs. Results of this second study demonstrated a dramatic decline in heroin use, expenditures on heroin, and cases of heroin overdose in response to the increased cost of heroin secondary to the supply shortage. The researchers found that when faced with rising costs and declines in purity many heroin users reduced heroin consumption in favor of cocaine and amphetamines. The cause of the heroin drought is not fully understood; however, increased seizure by law enforcement and increased arrests for use and possession combined with natural causes including lack of rainfall in heroin producing countries are likely responsible. Heroin users and informants were surveyed to determine the effects the drought had on cost, quality, and availability. Greater than 50 percent of those surveyed reported seeking treatment for heroin use as a direct result of the heroin drought. Additionally, 56 percent surveyed reported increased use of other drugs, primarily cocaine. No overall increase in crime was observed during the heroin drought.