The changing face of Sydney's cocaine users

Angie* is 31, works in real estate and lives in the inner-west with her husband and toddler in a rented duplex.

Most weekends, she spends upwards of $300 on cocaine.

“It’s fun,” she said when asked why she prefers the notorious party drug to alcohol or other illicit drugs.

“It’s so fun! It’s so much better than a night out on booze – nobody gets mopey about their job or their ex, everyone has the most fun night possible. And there’s no hangover. It’s pricey, but it works for me.”

The demand for cocaine in Sydney is extremely high.

The demand for cocaine in Sydney is extremely high.Credit:Fiona-Lee Quimby
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Angie has no concerns about the drug’s illegality, or its consequences for her health.

“There’s no way police are looking for people like us, they want the dealers. Everyone does it, I don’t even think about it being against the law. And drinking heavily is probably worse for you.”

No longer the province of only celebrities and bankers, cocaine is spreading from the jet set to suburbanites. Parents, working-class professionals and even students are all part of the growing subculture in Sydney that’s more house-bound than hitting the party hot spots.

In the past two years, NSW has seen a 33.6 per cent increase in incidences of use and possession of cocaine, according to data released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics this week. Areas not traditionally associated with the drug, such as the Hills District, have had an increase in arrests.

One man before the courts on cocaine-related charges said in the past two years his range of clients had expanded far beyond high-earning professionals living in Sydney’s ritziest suburbs.

“It’s people from TV … the races, things that you might expect,” Matt* said, speaking on the condition his real name was not used.

“But I also supplied to people that owned daycare centres or work as nurses. It’s definitely not just the party set, it’s all sorts. Mums at dinner parties, single dads, sometimes students.”

Suburban cocaine users – some well into their 50s and 60s – have the disposable income for the habit, he said.

“Older people have more money, and they’re out there looking for their lost youth,” he said. “I had a mother-daughter pair that I’d sell to.”

Far from the tables at high-end venues, the typical purchaser is using the drug at home. “Nine out of ten times you’re going to people’s houses for normal house parties and even dinners. For some people, you’d see them two or three times a day. It’s an expensive habit,” Matt said.

Australia has the world’s second-priciest cocaine, according to the Global Drug Survey released in May this year.

A whopping $311/gram – compared to a global average of $88 and $8.60 in Colombia, the drug’s most frequent point of origin – the price of cocaine has done little to dissuade Sydneysiders’ vociferous appetite for the drug.

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Of the 2334 busts in the past two years – hundreds more than the 24 months to September 2017 – 855 happened in the Sydney Local Government Area stretching from Millers Point to Rozelle. In the east, Waverley Local Government Area had 151 busts and Woollahra 135. Other areas not traditionally associated with the drug have had an increase in arrests – Parramatta recorded 60, while The Hills Shire had 55, up from 15 the previous two years.

“Selling in places like Baulkham Hills and Kellyville is better business, there are fewer cops looking for it,” Matt said.

And it’s not just Sydney locals getting in on the world’s second-priciest drug market.

From destinations as far-flung as Istanbul, Athens and Bangkok, the high demand for cocaine in the Harbour City – particularly as the festive season ramps up – coupled with the world’s second-highest prices has tempted criminals from all over the world to try their luck on Sydney’s drug scene.

Hells Angels, Comancheros and Lone Wolf bikies living overseas are what the NSW Crime Commission calls the “main entrepreneurs” involved in the sourcing, import and distribution of “a large portion” of Sydney’s illegal drugs in its annual report.

“Many members and associates of these groups now reside offshore in places such as Dubai, Istanbul, Athens, Thailand and Indonesia, from where they conspire with offshore associates to source drugs and remotely arrange logistics and transport to Australia, where their Australian counterparts arrange for receipt, storage and subsequent distribution,” the Crime Commission’s annual report reads.

Sally Rawsthorne is a Crime Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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