World drug map shows how Australia compares to others on recreational substance abuse

YOU’D expect different drugs to be more or less popular in different countries around the globe.

And for reasons of availability, culture and market forces they tend to be — as this fascinating interactive map shows.

Opiates are big for Russians, Pommy clubbers are in the grip of ecstasy and cannabis is hot in Iceland (although ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is not).

But there’s one shameful standout: Australia. Our country leads the way in consuming four out of five categories. That’s more even than the Americans.

Take a look at how the world gets high, then read on:

The last United Nations World Drug Report confirmed that Australia leads the world in ecstasy and cannabis use, was third for methamphetamines and fourth for cocaine.

The 2014 report also showed that annual use among Australians and New Zealand for all drugs except for opiates like heroin “remain much higher than the global average”.

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance across the globe, with the highest prevalence of use among Australians and New Zealanders. More than 10 per cent of the working-age population regularly use cannabis, with 1.9 million people aged 15-65 using it in the 12 months.

Colombia, Peru and Bolivia provide most of the world’s cocaine and are the major sources of the cocaine in Australia.

Most heroin that arrives in Australia is sourced from Southwest Asia. Afghanistan is the primary global producer but smaller quantities are grown in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Pakistan.

The data suggests ecstasy is the only drug that is declining in use in Australia — although that may be because of seizures, not because of fading popularity.


In the past five years, there has been significant growth in the detected importation, manufacture and supply of methamphetamine — in particular “ice”. The purity has also increased, making its use even more dangerous. Fifty per cent of the drug is made in Australia and the other half is made overseas: mainly China, Iran, Mexico, US and Canada.

Follow the links above and below to catch up on journalist Paul Toohey’s recent chilling journey through the heart of the “Ice Nation” — and see how it is hitting one city’s children by clicking here.

Professor Michael Farrell, director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said long-term drug trends go in cycles: rising, falling or finding a plateau of stability.


“We think we’ve got an ageing heroin using population and that we haven’t currently got many new people coming into it which is a plus. That’s also happening in Europe.

“Interestingly, the United States has diverged and they’ve actually got a new heroin problem. They say it’s coming from Mexico and Colombia.”

Nicole Lee, associate professor at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University, said drugs market was quick to adapt to threats and opportunities.

“Availability is definitely one of those things we can identify that is a good predictor of how many people will be using it at any one time,” she said.

“I think the drug trade and drug use operate within similar parameters to other market forces so there’s a little bit of supply and demand”

In recent years, the focus of greatest community concern has been ice, the street version of the powerful stimulant methamphetamine.

The drug, which can be sniffed as a powder, smoked in crystal shards or dissolved in water and injected, is considered highly addictive.

“Sixty to 80 per cent of methamphetamine is made in Australia but nearly all the precursor chemicals come from Southeast Asia,” Lee said.

“That’s why we have one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the world.”