Is $12 billion a year being sent overseas for drugs?

According to a report in The Age,

The Australian Crime Commission’s estimates suggest authorities are drastically underestimating the quantity of drugs crossing the nation’s borders without detection.

“The estimates at the moment range between $4 billion and $12 billion a year. We are not saying at the moment which end of the scale is right or wrong, but what we are saying is it is significant,” [ACC chief executive] Mr Milroy said.

The most recent official estimate, for 2004, put the figure at $382 million.

$12 billion seems rather a lot for the nation’s drug users to be sending overseas. Doing a quick calculation based on the AIHW drug survey it amounts to about $4,200 per drug user.

But by far the most common illicit drug is cannibas, which is not a big import. Another Australian Crime Commission report says that low prices and plentiful local supply mean that it is not attractive to drug importers.

If we restrict the user pool to other drugs, $12 billion means about $9,000 per drug user (though presumably some people appear several times in the separate numbers for each drug).

I suppose that is possible, but the most common of the other drugs, ecstasy, costs only $30-$40 a pill, and for many people is an occasional party drug, not something they need every day.

I won’t give this number the dubious research category yet, but the range of between $4 billion a year and three times that amount suggests that at minimum this is a very premature release of the results.