SYDNEY — Selling illicit drugs in Australia has long been a more lucrative business than in most other parts of the world because the country’s remote location means a lot of it gets stopped on arrival, driving up prices.
But Australia still has some of the world’s highest illicit drug consumption rates, which has encouraged some criminals to go to extraordinary lengths to circumvent those border controls. In several raids earlier this month, Australian authorities arrested eight people, accusing them of being part of an international drug syndicate that smuggled $14 million worth of illegal substances — including cocaine and heroin — into the country over at least the last five years. The actual figure is likely to be higher, Australian officials in the state of Victoria said.
Authorities believe a Malindo Air flight attendant smuggled the drugs onboard in Malaysia, carrying them on his body and in the luggage, before offloading them in Sydney and Melbourne. It was unclear whether other flight attendants were involved or aware of the scheme, but authorities described the investigation as ongoing. They also seized luxury cars belonging to the suspects.
“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms,” said Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh, according to a news release from Victoria Police.
Australia has been struggling to contain a sharp increase in drug-related deaths in recent years. While most of those deaths were connected to overdoses of prescription drugs, a growing number of fatalities has been blamed on smuggled substances entering the country on ships or planes.
In a recent study, the Rand Europe research institute estimated that Australia accounted for about 11 percent of global dark net sales of illicit drugs. U.S. consumers purchased only about three times more illicit drugs online in total, even though the United States is 16 times more populous than Australia. Sales via dark net, which refers to corners of the Internet accessible only with special browsers, represent a small fraction of overall consumption, but other studies have similarly found that Australia’s illicit drug consumption is above global levels. While illicit drug use caused 1.8 percent of all injuries in Australia by 2011, the global average stood at 0.8 percent, according to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. Since then, government authorities have reported further increases in drug consumption.
By 2013, almost 3 million Australians were believed to have used illicit drugs within one year, which amounts to about 8 percent of the population.
While prices for illegal substances may be higher in Australia than in most other countries, authorities have been concerned over their easy availability in major cities. This month’s drug raids across the country appear to have been part of a broader crackdown to combat drug use, even though researchers caution that a broader approach — including better mental health care and more prevention trainings — is needed to successfully lower consumption rates.
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