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Addenda results

Drug substitution

During the third quarter of 2013, the drug substitution addendum was administered for cannabis, heroin and methamphetamine. The addendum was administered to adult detainees across four sites—Adelaide, Brisbane, East Perth and Kings Cross. The aim of the addendum is to understand the impact a reduction in the availability of a particular drug has on patterns of consumption of that drug, alcohol and other illicit drugs. It is important to understand whether a reduction in the availability of a drug will result in reduced harm through reduced consumption, or whether such benefits would be mitigated by unintended adverse outcomes such as increased consumption of other illicit drugs or alcohol.

The heroin drug substitution addendum was administered to only 10 percent (n=54) of the total detainees interviewed in the quarter and so the results are not reported below.

Cannabis

The cannabis drug substitution addendum was administered to 276 detainees. Approximately 50 percent (n=137) of these detainees reported they had never experienced a reduction in cannabis supply. Of the 139 detainees who had previously experienced a shortage, 33 percent (n=46) reported that during periods of reduced supply they reduced the quantity of cannabis they consumed; 47 percent (n=65) abstained from using cannabis altogether; and 20 percent (n=28) used the same amount of cannabis. With regard to the consumption of other drugs and alcohol during periods of reduced cannabis supply, 26 percent (27 of 103 detainees) reported an increase in the consumption of alcohol and 18 percent (19 of 103 detainees) reported an increase in the consumption of other illicit drugs.

Methamphetamine

The methamphetamine drug substitution addendum was administered to 194 detainees. Approximately 56 percent (n=109) of these detainees reported they had never experienced a reduction in methamphetamine supply. Of the 85 detainees who had previously experienced a shortage, nine percent (n=8) reported that during periods of reduced supply they reduced the quantity of methamphetamine they consumed, 68 percent (n=58) abstained from using methamphetamine altogether, and 22 percent (n=19) used the same amount of methamphetamine. With regard to the consumption of other drugs and alcohol during periods of reduced methamphetamine supply, 25 percent (15 of 61 detainees) reported an increase in the consumption of alcohol and 34 percent (21 of 61 detainees) reported an increase in the consumption of other illicit drugs.

In the case of both cannabis and methamphetamine, the majority of detainees reported reduced consumption or abstention during periods of reduced supply. The majority also reported they did not increase consumption of alcohol or illicit drugs during these periods. These findings suggest that a reduction in the supply of cannabis or methamphetamine may result in reductions in harm among cannabis and methamphetamine users. However, a substantial proportion of detainees reported never having experienced a period of reduced supply, indicating that cannabis and methamphetamine remain readily available across Australia and that reductions in supply may be temporary and localised.

For further detail, see Findings from the DUMA program: Impact of reduced cannabis supply on consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol (Goldsmid 2015) and Findings from the DUMA program: Impact of reduced methamphetamine supply on consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol (Coghlan & Goldsmid 2015).

Internet access, frequency and nature of use

In the first quarter of 2014 police detainee access to the internet and frequency of engagement in online activities, including illicit drug purchasing, was examined. The addendum was administered to 535 adult detainees across five sites: Adelaide, Brisbane, East Perth, Kings Cross and Surry Hills. The majority of police detainees reported having regular and private internet access, with 71 percent (n=381) reporting having used the internet in the 30 days prior to detention. Of those who reported having access, 71 percent reported daily use of the internet, 70 percent reported accessing the internet through a smart phone, and 82 percent reported that they usually accessed the internet at home.

Detainees who had used the internet in the 30 days prior to detention (n=381) were also asked about the frequency with which they engaged in particular online activities. Detainees could nominate more than one activity. Of those who reported using the internet in the past 30 days, 52 percent (n=197) reported frequent use of the internet for social media, 35 percent (n=134) for online banking, 34 percent (n=127) for email, and 26 percent (n=100) for work. These activities are consistent with what may be expected of internet use in the general community. A small proportion of detainees reported frequent use of the internet for watching movies or TV shows (16%; n=60), online video gaming (11%; n=42), shopping (8%; n=31) and gambling (5%; n=19).

Almost one-third (31%; n=118) of detainees reported using the internet to source information about illicit drugs including methamphetamine (42%), cannabis (27%) and ecstasy/MDMA (27%). In terms of illicit drug purchases, five percent of detainees (n=8) who had heard of drugs being sold online reported they had purchased illicit drugs online and three percent (n=12) of all detainees who had used the internet in the past 30 days reported they may consider buying drugs online in the future. This finding suggests that while detainees may search online for information about illicit drugs, they are doing so for reasons other than illicit drug purchase. Although the nature of the online searches cannot be determined from the data, it may be that detainees searched for information related to use, side effects, or help seeking.

In terms of help seeking, the results indicate that detainees are capable of engaging with online resources, as the majority have regular and private internet access. While 73 percent of the sample tested positive for recent illicit drug use via urinalysis, only five percent reported purchasing drugs online. This suggests a preference for obtaining drugs through the physical, rather than the online, illicit drug market. It would be of interest to monitor this preference over time. It is possible that the lack of engagement with the online drug market reflects a general lack of engagement with the internet for purchasing activities, with 59 percent (n=223) of detainees reporting never having engaged in online shopping. Alternatively, with high levels of dependence in the detainee population, the immediacy of the physical drug market may drive this preference.

For further detail, see Findings from the DUMA program: Internet access, frequency and nature of use among police detainees (Goldsmid & Patterson 2015).

Readiness to change drug use and help-seeking intentions

During the second quarter of 2014 an addendum was administered to examine readiness to change drug use and help-seeking intentions for drug problems among Australian police detainees. The addendum was administered to 514 adult detainees at four sites—Adelaide, Bankstown, Brisbane and East Perth. Detainees who reported using a drug in the 12 months prior to interview (62%; n=321) were asked to complete the Readiness to Change Questionnaire for drugs and the General Help-seeking Questionnaire.

Of the 321 detainees who reported using a drug in the last 12 months, the majority (86%) fell into the contemplation and action stages of change, with a small minority falling into the precontemplation stage (14%). Regression analysis revealed that drug dependency, drug abuse and drug-crime attribution predicted level of readiness to change. Detainees reported a stronger intention to seek help from informal rather than formal sources should they need to, for drug misuse; these included a romantic partner, friend or family member. In terms of formal services, detainees indicated they were most likely to seek the help of a doctor, followed by that of a mental health professional.

The findings indicate that the detainees most in need of drug treatment are also those most ready to change their drug use behaviour. The high level of readiness to change among drug-using police detainees suggests that, at least within the context of arrest, the majority of detainees are receptive to intervention efforts. Based on reported intentions to seek help, sources of help involving face-to-face interactions had the highest level of intended engagement.

Face-to-face illicit drug interventions administered by medical professionals in the custodial setting may foster a high level of engagement by police detainees suffering from drug abuse. For further detail, please see Readiness to change drug use and help-seeking intentions of police detainees: Findings from the DUMA program (Gannoni & Goldsmid forthcoming).

Drink and drug driving

During the third quarter of 2014, the drink and drug driving addendum was administered to 285 adult detainees at four sites: Adelaide, Brisbane, East Perth and Kings Cross. These detainees represented 53 percent of the total detainees interviewed this quarter, as detainees who terminated the interview early or reported they had not driven a motor vehicle in the 12 months prior to interview were not asked to respond to the drink and drug driving addendum. Detainees who responded to the addendum were asked whether, in their opinion, their driving ability was impaired or improved within one hour of consuming alcohol, cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA or cocaine. Detainees were also asked how likely they thought it was that police would test them while driving for the same list of substances.

Detainees’ perceptions of the risk of police testing were substance specific. The majority of detainees (59%) reported that it was likely, very likely or extremely likely that police would stop them while driving and test them for alcohol. This was followed by a 38 percent endorsement for methamphetamines, 36 percent for cannabis, 31 percent for MDMA, 29 percent for cocaine and 29 percent for heroin.

Detainees were more likely to report that drug use would impair their driving ability than that drug use would have no impact or improve their driving ability. The majority of detainees believed that their driving ability would suffer a small, noticeable or large impairment within one hour of using or consuming the substances examined (alcohol, 79%; cannabis, 64%; heroin, 81%; methamphetamine, 51%; MDMA, 81%; and cocaine, 67%). Less than 20 percent of detainees reported that they would demonstrate a small, noticeable or large improvement in their driving ability within an hour of consuming cannabis (18%) or cocaine (15%), while less than 10 percent thought the same thing in relation to the use or consumption of heroin (9%), alcohol (7%), or MDMA (3%). However, 36 percent of detainees reported they thought their driving ability would improve within an hour of using methamphetamine. Only 51 percent of detainees reported that methamphetamine would impair their driving within an hour of use—the lowest level of endorsement across all substances. This perception is contrary to empirical evidence of the adverse impact of methamphetamine use on driving ability.

There was evidence that detainees do perceive there to be a risk related to drink and drug driving, with most users reporting impaired driving when under the influence and the risk of detection by police. The strength of these perceptions is likely to determine the resulting deterrence from drink and drug driving, with marked variations noted between users and substances.

For further detail, see Findings from the DUMA program: Drink and drug driving among police detainees (Goldsmid, Coghlan & Patterson 2015).

National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund—Managing intoxicated offenders: Best practice in responding to individuals affected by drugs and alcohol

In the third and fourth quarters of 2014, addenda were administered in support of the NDLERF funded project, Managing intoxicated offenders: Best practice in responding to individuals affected by drugs and alcohol.

In the third quarter of 2014, an addendum was administered to compare the alcohol and illicit drug recent use profiles of detainees identified by police either as intoxicated or not intoxicated. Data were collected for 216 detainees who were interviewed at Adelaide, East Perth and Kings Cross; 60 percent (n=129) of detainees provided a urine sample. Twenty-two percent (n=48) of detainees were identified as intoxicated based on police charge system records. Analysis revealed that police were better than chance at detecting alcohol consumption; that is, when alcohol had been consumed, 41 percent of offenders were identified by police as intoxicated. In contrast, when alcohol was not consumed, only six percent of offenders were classified as intoxicated (false positives). Police were no better than chance at detecting illicit drug use. Detainees identified as intoxicated reported consuming, on average, five standard drinks more than detainees identified as not intoxicated. This finding is consistent with other research suggesting that intoxication is more accurately detected at higher levels of consumption.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, an addendum was administered to examine predictors of police assessments of intoxication—namely, whether detainees’ self-reported levels of intoxication, sedation, stimulation, hostility or psychological distress predicted police assessments of intoxication. The addendum was administered to 516 detainees at Adelaide, Bankstown, Brisbane and East Perth. Twenty-eight percent (n=145) of detainees were identified as intoxicated based on police charge system records. Urine was not collected this quarter.

Logistic regression analysis revealed that self-reported levels of stimulation and hostility predicted police assessments of intoxication when self-reported levels of intoxication, sedation and psychological distress were controlled for. That is, the higher the detainee’s self-reported level of stimulation or hostility, the more likely police were to identify them as intoxicated. Stimulation and hostility are side effects associated with the consumption of alcohol and stimulants such as methamphetamine. This would suggest that police are more likely to correctly identify a detainee as intoxicated if the detainee has consumed alcohol or a stimulant. For further detail, including the methodological limitations of this study, see Managing intoxicated offenders: Best practice in responding to individuals affected by drugs and alcohol (Fuller, Goldsmid & Brown forthcoming).

The AIC has made the DUMA addenda space available for purchase by other organisations and researchers since 2013. If you wish to purchase space in the DUMA addenda, please contact the AIC at duma@aic.gov.au.