NDARC Technical Report No. 181 (2004)


This report presents the results of the 2003 Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) for the Northern Territory (NT). This is the fifth year that the IDRS has been conducted in the NT.

The IDRS is coordinated by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) which is part of the University of NSW. It is jointly funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (the Department) and by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF).

The IDRS combines data from a survey of injecting drug users (IDU), a survey of key informants and the collation of illicit drug related indicator data to monitor the price, purity and availability of a range of illicit drug classes and to identify emerging trends in illicit drug use and the illicit drug market.

IDU Sample characteristics
As in previous years the IDU sample was primarily male (69%), aged in the mid-thirties (mean =37 years), spoke English at home and was unemployed (75%). Thirteen percent of the sample identified as indigenous (compared to 20% in 2002), 48% had been in prison, and 24% were in treatment at the time of interview.

Drug use patterns
The five illicit drugs most commonly used by the IDU sample in the last six months remains unchanged from the previous year: morphine, cannabis, speed powder, benzodiazapines and methadone. The proportion who used speed powder has dropped from 67% to 60% while the proportions who used methamphetamine base and crystal forms have increased, from 21% to 30% and from 20% to 34% respectively. The proportion who used methadone is noticeably higher, increasing from 37% to 51%, while the proportion who used heroin has declined from 22% to 19%. Morphine, mainly in the form of the diverted pharmaceutical MS Contin, remains the most commonly injected drug in Darwin at 84% of the IDU sample.


  • Occurrence of heroin use in the NT IDU sample remains low and is declining.
  • At a median of $50 per cap, the price of heroin is stable or declining and purity remains low.
  • Availability is restricted and sporadic.



  • Recent methamphetamine use remains high (68% of the IDU sample) which is consistent with previous years.
  • Powder continues to be the most common and most frequently used form, although base (30%) and crystal (33%) show an increased presence.
  • The median price of a gram of powder has increased from $80 in 2002 to $100 in 2003.
  • Methamphetamine continues to be easy to obtain, with the availability of the more pure forms (base and crystal) increasing.
  • Methamphetamine was the most frequently injected drug in the month prior to interview for 28% of the IDU sample, increasing from 19% in 2002.
  • The decline in treatment agency episodes involving amphetamines does not reflect the stability of use and availability.



  • Cocaine use in the NT is low and its use amongst the IDU sample continues to decline, from 18% in 2000 to 3% in 2003.



  • Cannabis remains the most prevalent and frequently used illicit drug in the NT (83% of the IDU sample), with high availability and potency .
  • Cannabis price, potency and availability have been stable; a gram costs $25 and an ounce $300.
  • The number of separations from NT hospitals involving cannabinoids has increased by 49% over the last three financial years.
  • Episodes of treatment for problematic cannabis use have declined.


Other opioids

  • Diverted MS Contin continues to be the primary injected opiate in Darwin, with the rate of illicit use in the IDU sample stable compared to earlier years at 84%.
  • The use of licit morphine among the IDU sample dropped from 42% in 2002 to 35% in 2003.
  • The price of MS Contin 100mg has increased from $50 in 2002 to $60 this year.
  • The availability of diverted morphine continues to be rated as ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain by most of the IDU sample (68%) and key informants; the proportion rating it as difficult to obtain has declined from 44% in 2001 to 25% this year.
  • Seventy-three percent of primary recent morphine injectors reported injecting daily; key informants report that daily users inject two-four times a day using a total of between 300mg and 800mg.
  • Morphine use is associated with patterns of polydrug use, particularly: cannabis, benzodiazepine, methamphetamine, alcohol and illicit physeptone.
  • The rate of accidental deaths per million due to opioid use is higher in the NT than other jurisdictions and shows a steady upward trend since 2001.
  • There is some indication that modifications to morphine prescribing practices have had some impact on the supply of MS Contin for illicit use, but this has been compensated for by a higher rate of diversion and substitution by other drugs, possibly including Kapanol, benzodiazepines and physeptone.
  • The proportion of the IDU sample reporting recent methadone use increased from 37% in 2002 to 51% in 2003, mainly due to a marked increase in the use of illicit physeptone over the last two IDRS years.


Other drugs

  • The level of recent use in the IDU sample of ecstasy, benzodiazepines, inhalants and anti-depressants remain similar to that seen in previous years.
  • The level of recent use of LSD shows continuing decline from 33% of the IDU sample in 2000 to 7% this year.
  • Benzodiazepine use continues to be closely associated with regular morphine use and temazepam remains the form of choice amongst illicit benzodiazepine users.


Associated harms

  • The hepatitis C antibody continues to be found at high levels in the injecting drug user population (62%).
  • Needle sharing in the IDU remains at a low level of around 6%.
  • Injection related problems show mixed trends, with the number of IDU reporting overdose, dirty hits and abscess/infection declining while scarring/bruising and difficulty injecting has increased.
  • Morphine injectors were more likely to report an injection related problem than benzodiazepine or methadone injectors.
  • Self reported arrests for property crime have increased from 5% in 2002 to 9% in 2003.
  • Police activity around possession and use of illicit drugs has declined while activity concerning manufacture, dealing and trafficking is stable.


Citation: Moon, C. (2004) Northern Territory Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.



C. Moon
Date Commenced
20 Apr 2004
Resource Type
Technical Reports