Trafficking in multiple commodities: Exposing Australia’s poly-drug and poly-criminal networks

Monograph no. 62

Caitlin Hughes, Jenny Chalmers, David Bright, Michael McFadden

International law enforcement agencies have increasingly pointed to an apparent rise in poly-drug traffickers: high level drug traffickers who choose to trade in multiple illicit drugs. This project provided the first detailed examination of poly-drug and poly-crime trafficking in Australia. It used three different types of Australian Federal Police data (border seizures, cases and linked-cases) and court sentencing data to estimate the scale of and trends in poly-drug commercial importation at the Australian border from 1999-2012; generate and compare criminal profiles of 20 poly-drug and 20 mono-drug traffickers; and conduct social network analysis of three Australian poly-drug networks. The analysis showed that over the 14 year period, from 1999 to 2012, between 5% and 35% of commercial importations at the Australian border involved poly-drug trafficking. Poly-drug trafficking occurred in almost every year of analysis: and increased only slightly over time. Finally, poly-drug traffickers were associated with more serious and potentially harmful behaviour. For example, compared to mono-drug traffickers, poly-drug traffickers were associated with larger quantities of drug seized, larger networks, longer periods of operation, and greater involvement in other types of serious crime. The project concluded that some fears about poly-drug traffickers may have been overstated particularly about the inherent escalation of this form of trafficking, but that poly-drug traffickers are likely to pose added risks to governments and law enforcement than mono-drug traffickers. Two key implications are that first, poly-drug traffickers warrant increased attention in Australia; and second, regulatory or law enforcement responses aimed at one drug may increase the problems associated with another drug. This demands a new way of thinking about Australian illicit drug markets that can better respond to drug traffickers operating in an inter-connected marketplace.