An increase in cocaine availability, prevalence of use, and hospitalisations in Australia has been mapped in a new report.

Led by researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), UNSW Sydney, the new report takes multiple data sets and triangulates cocaine trends in Australia from 2003 -2019.

Lead author, Dr Amy Peacock said, “The triangulation of these various data sources points to significant shifts in cocaine use, markets and harms in Australia in recent years and generates renewed attention on treatment and harm reduction responses for regular and dependent cocaine use.”

According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, the percentage of adult Australians reporting past year cocaine use increased from 2.5% in 2016 to 4.2% in 2019.

“We have also observed increases in cocaine use among samples of people who regularly use ecstasy and other stimulants, with these individuals reporting that cocaine is more easy to access,” said Dr Peacock.

The report highlights that the rates of cocaine-related hospitalisations and treatment episodes have increased.

“Cocaine-related hospitalisation rate increased from 5.1 to 15.6 per 100,000 people from around 2011-12 to 2017-18: an annual increase of 1.3 per 100,000 people.”

“Whilst the death rate was low, treatment episodes increased from 3.2 to 5.9 per 100,000 people from around 2016-17 to 2017-18: an annual increase of 2.9 per 100,000 people,” said Dr Peacock.

Despite prevalence, availability and hospitalisations increasing, frequency of use remains low.

“Cocaine prices in Australia are still some of the highest globally, which may explain why frequency of use remains low despite increased availability,” said Dr Peacock.

The report calls for a need to promote harm reduction strategies among people who use cocaine, and to continue monitoring drug tends.

“These findings are concerning given the lack of efficacious treatment options for cocaine dependence, and reinforce the need for harm reduction interventions targeted at reducing overdose, injuries and other harms.”

“Close monitoring of these indicators is warranted given the potential for further elevation in rates of use and harms, particularly if reductions in price occur alongside increased availability and/or increased purity.”

You can read the full report online here.