Australia has a long history of economic success and can boast of having a fascinating and unique culture. It is exceptional in every way, including its geographic location and natural environment which sets it apart from the rest of the world. However, Australia is a global player in every regard, including in its contribution to the global economy, its importance in preserving a diverse ecology, and its role as a gateway to a burgeoning Asia. Unfortunately, it is also a player in a global addiction burden that limits what the nation is capable of achieving in numerous ways. Addiction increases crime rates and disease rates, and it also lowers productivity. It is good to step back at times, take a more global view of the use of illegal drugs and acknowledge that Australian employers are key players in the effort to protect the country’s residents from the tragic consequences of a growing illicit drug market.
The best way to assess Australia’s global status is to consider the statistics. The Australian Crime Commission’s report titled “Organised Crime in Australia” presents a grim picture. The Commission made a conservative estimate that organised crime is a $10 billion industry in Australia. It came to the conclusion that a large segment of organised crime is related to drug smuggling and the marketing of illicit drugs. The Commission also reported that at least half of Australian criminal activity is connected to illicit drugs. Smuggled drugs include ecstasy, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, cannabis, and heroin. In other words, the country has become a major market for international drug trafficking. Heroin is largely coming from south-east Asia and West Africa, though new sources have been emerging. At the time of the report, Germany, Canada, and Nigeria were the main embarkation points for cocaine.1
A Matter of Statistics
Employers can readily use these numbers as justification for drug testing in the workplace. The only reason that drug smuggling to Australia is growing is because there is a growing local market for the illicit substances. That increases the likelihood that one or more employees are using drugs in any workplace. It is all a matter of statistics. The drugs in the workplace may have originated in distance locations, but many of them end up in local businesses.
Globally, an estimated 149 to 271 million people around the world used illicit drugs in 2009. The drugs included opioids, cocaine, amphetamines, and cannabis. Up to 21 million people injected drugs, and in Oceana that number was 193,000.2 Australia is one of the few countries that tracks trends in the use of specific forms of drugs. Since so many countries do not survey for drug use and dependence, it is difficult to get reliable global numbers. However, the statistics that are available leave no doubt that Australia is considered an established market for illegal drugs.
As is true for other high-income countries, drug use is on the rise in Australia, and that increases the likelihood of health consequences. The adverse health effects have been divided into four major categories by researchers. They are: acute toxic effects which include overdose; acute effects of intoxication which include violence and accidental injury; the adverse health effects of sustained drug and alcohol use, which include chronic diseases, blood borne viral and bacterial infections, and mental disorders; and dependence.3 Each one of these health effects is detrimental to worker productivity and workplace safety and increases the cost of health insurance.
The relationship between drug and alcohol use and health issues like mental disorders are not always apparent to employers. For example, there is an established link between substance abuse and depression, and depression is the fourth leading cause of Australia’s disease burden.4 The employer may not realise a worker is making many mistakes at work due to experiencing depression as a symptom of drug abuse. A random drug test is the only legal and impartial means for detecting the presence of illicit drugs in a worker’s system.
A Broader Perspective
The statistics give perspective to Australia’s global position in the world of substance abuse. Keeping an eye on the broader perspective makes it easier to remember that a substance free environment benefits workers, the workplace, Australia, and the global community of which it is a member.
A drug and alcohol testing program represents a reliable monitoring system that works to keep illicit drugs and alcohol out of the workplace. CMM Technology (cmm.com.au/index.php) supplies businesses with quality products and professional services across industries.
- David Perrin, Australia’s $10 billion industry – organised crime, (2 May 2009) News Weekly. Accessed October 20, 2013 at http://bit.ly/1bSeZ4K.
- Louisa Degenhardt and Wayne Hall, Extent of illicit drug use and dependence, and their contribution to the global burden of disease. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from The Lancet: http://bit.ly/JFdj4V
- Babor TF, Caulkins J, Edwards G, et al. Drug policy and the public good. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010
- C. D. Mathers, E. T. Vos, C. E. Stevenson, S. J. Begg, The Australian Burden of Disease Study: measuring the loss of health from diseases, injuries and risk factors. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, ACT. The Medical Journal of Australia 2000, 172(12):592-596.