Thursday 26 May 2011

Heroin - part VI

But wait - there's more!

We've had a look at estimates of how many heroin users there are in NSW (and the numbers are pretty old). Now let's  have a look at how often they stick a needle in their arm.

Frequency of heroin use
  • Once a week – 9%
  • More than once a week – 20%
  • Daily – 16.5%
  • More than once a day – 46%
Mean expenditure – about $1000 per week (2005).
Here's the bit that all law-abiding, tax-paying householders and shopkeepers will love:

Three-quarters of PS users reported committing at least one crime in the previous 30 days
It's worth noting that the information on the NSW Druginfo site is a bit contradictory in places:

During the 1980s and 1990s research suggested the numbers of heroin dependent users in Australia rose from around 34,000 in the mid 1980s to about 74,000 estimated in 1997, when the last major study was conducted.  At that time, the research suggested there may have been up to 35,000 dependent users in NSW.   
NDARC has described a dependent heroin user as one who uses 2-3 times per day.  Dependent users consume about 85 percent of heroin imported.  
In addition, NDARC estimates that there are as many as 2-3 times the number of dependent users who use occasionally, perhaps once per week.

So exactly how many bloody users are there in NSW today?

After a fair bit of Googling, the answer seems to be "buggered if I know", because there hasn't been any published research in the last 9 years. The numbers might have gone up, or they might have gone down.

So let's go with the estimate of 20,000 dependent users in NSW as that's what the latest research in 2002 said, and let's go with the definition of "dependent" as someone who uses 2-3 times per day (because as the research says, this lot use 85% of all heroin).

If they're shooting up 2-3 times per day, that equates to about 50,000 hits per day. For a user, that's 15-20 injections per week.

How much in a hit? What do I look like - a drug encyclopedia?

If heroin costs about $300 per gram (as it did during the drought in 2001) and junkies are spending $1000 per week on heroin, then we can calculate an intake of 3.3 grams per week, or about 0.2 grams per hit - although heavy users might consume lots more than that.

So by those rough calculations, those 20,000 users are going through at least 60,000 grams per week in NSW - or 60 kilos. That's 3 tons per year.

This has to be taken with a pinch of salt though, as a more recent study puts average drug expenditure at $56 per day, or $392 per week. That's about 1.2 grams per week, or 1.2 tons per year.

To put that in perspective, a huge drug seizure in Australia is 400kgs - and that was back in 1998.

But let's go back to Bob Carr's statements about the benefits of a safe injecting room:

There have been approximately 600,000 visits over 10 years. There are about 200 injections a day – that is, with medical supervision on hand, whereas without the centre…? 
To reinforce this point, the number of drug overdoses successfully managed stands at more then 3,500. 
Now this is also important : there have been more than 8,500 referrals for addiction treatment, mental health, homelessness or acute medical problems. We always envisaged this as a portal to treatment. 

Like I said above, the junkies of NSW are putting away 50,000 hits per day. That's 18,250,000 per year. The safe injecting room has been open for 10 years and has seen 600,000 injections. In that time, all the other junkies in NSW have stuffed a needle into their arm 182,500,000 times. What is 600,000 divided by 182,500,000? It's not a lot. It's 0.00328 - that's what it is.

Is that good policy, or just pissing in the wind?

Interestingly enough, the ABS hasn't provided any updated numbers on drug deaths or the number of heroin users in about a decade, so we can't tell what's happening to the addict population. If there were 19,900 heroin users in NSW when the injecting rooms opened for business a decade ago, and they've made 8,500 referrals for treatment, then one would expect that the number of addicts would have continued to decline sharply due to more and more of them getting treatment etc etc.

I doubt very much that has happened.


English Pensioner said...

However many statistics are produced, the problem is that politicians seem to be unwilling to deal with the matter. It is made worse in the UK because of the ludicrous Human Rights Act which means that if addicts are locked up, it is apparently their Human Right to be provided with drugs. "Cold Turkey" has been described by judges as contravening their rights!
Personally I'd let them have the drugs free from a pharmacist provided they injected them there and then. It would cut crime, remove pushers, and if they kill themselves, so what? Surely its their Human Right!

1735099 said...

Interesting and thorough.
One question - if one of the (apparently few) people who have been saved from a fatal overdose by a safe injecting centre was your son or daughter, would your opinion change?
For mine - it's the story of the little boy and the starfish on the beach.