A high proportion of cocaine samples in Australia have been found to contain no trace of the drug, suggesting that supply from Latin America is a long way from meeting market demand in the country.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra found that 40 percent of the cocaine samples submitted to the city’s CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service since mid-July contained “no cocaine at all,” according to an August 25 press release. In those samples that did contain cocaine, purity levels were at an average of just 27 percent.
CanTEST also tested 15 samples of supposed fentanyl “with none showing signs of these dangerous and potent synthetic opiates,” said David Caldicott, an associate professor at ANU's Medical School.
In contrast, all heroin samples tested contained the illicit substance, while most ketamine and methamphetamine samples also tested positive.
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CanTEST's initial findings reveal the apparent difficulty traffickers have in delivering to Australia, despite frequent drugs seizures and reports that Mexican cartels have a presence in the country.
Aside from the complete lack of cocaine in 40 percent of samples, purity levels of 27 percent are well below averages in other wealthier nations. In the European Union, cocaine purity in 2021 stood at between 53 and 68 percent on average, according to the European Drug Report 2021.
John Coyne, head of strategic policing and law enforcement at the Australia Strategic Policy Centre, told InSight Crime that such low purity levels are to be expected in a drug market as far-flung as Australia.
“Australia is at the end of the global cocaine supply chain. While profitable, it is a low-volume market compared to North America and Europe. Of concern is the substitution [of cocaine for another substance], no doubt driven by profit taking,” he said.
Local biker gangs typically act as the distributors for transnational crime groups like Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, Coyne explained. However, he added that such relations are based on ad hoc deals more than institutionalized partnerships
Mexican cartels have attempted to find a foothold in Australia for years. As InSight Crime reported in 2016, Australia’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre suggested that Mexican cartels - primarily the Sinaloa Cartel - threatened national security.
And a recent string of cocaine discoveries has increased concerns that the cocaine pipeline to Australia is getting busier. Most recently, on August 6, 700 kilograms of cocaine were discovered in Sydney’s Port Botany on a ship that had stopped at ports in Central and South America, the Australian Federal Police reported.