Media Release: Supply reduction policy and drug-related harm

Release date:
27 November 2014                

Full report - Supply-side reduction policy and drug-related harm (pdf - 3.1Mb)

Large-scale seizures of cocaine, heroin and amphetamine-type substances (ATS) do not result in any reduction in overdoses on these drugs or on arrests for use and possession of these drugs.

This finding emerged today from the most comprehensive assessments of drug law enforcement ever undertaken in Australia.  

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research examined seizures, supplier arrests, emergency department (ED) admissions and use/possession arrests between July 2001 and June 2011. 

A special analysis was also conducted of three specific operations (Operation Balmoral Athens, Operation Tempest and Operation Collage) identified by the NSW Crime Commission as has having had the potential to have affected the market for cocaine.

No evidence was found that increases in drug seizures and drug supplier arrests reduced the number of ED admissions relating to ATS, cocaine and heroin, or the number of arrests for use and/or possession of these drugs.

In fact increases in the quantities of ATS, cocaine and heroin drugs seized by law enforcement authorities appear to be signals of increased rather than reduced supply.

Operation Balmoral Athens, Operation Tempest and Operation Collage did exert a suppression effect on arrests for use and possession of cocaine but the effect was only temporary.

This suggests that very large seizures, perhaps when coupled with the arrest of key suppliers, may at least temporarily reduce consumption of illicit drugs. 
Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau cautioned that they should not be read as indicating that supply-side drug law enforcement was a waste of money.

"All we have done is rule out any short-term association between drug seizures and drug-related harm."

"The severe punishments associated with drug trafficking make these activities very risky. These risks keep illegal drug prices high and illegal drug consumption therefore lower than it would be in the absence of supply-side drug law enforcement."

"The message from our work is that drug-law enforcers should aim to maximize the risks associated with drug trafficking rather than maximizing the quantities of drugs seized."

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231 9190
Copies of the report: