Cocaine orders are ‘like Uber’
Buying cocaine is now as easy as ordering an Uber, authorities have warned, with dealers suspected of using the taxi service and smartphone chat technology to make deliveries to meet burgeoning demand.
An illicit drug snapshot by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has concluded the proportion of the Australian population aged 14 years or over reporting having used cocaine increased in the past 12 months from 8 per cent to 9 per cent.
And those increases were seen not just in the cities but the country too.
"Despite fluctuations, indicators of cocaine demand and supply point to an expanding market in Australia," the ACIC concluded in this year's snapshot Illicit Drugs Report 2019.
Australian authorities say the country is following a trend first seen in Europe and branded the "Uberisation" of the illicit cocaine trafficking trade, where demand is matched by volume availability of the drug and technology making it easier to put customer and seller in contact.
The days of the back alleyway "grubbiness" of the trade have gone, replaced by young savvy socialite sellers using encrypted apps on smartphones to take dial-a-drug orders and unsuspecting or otherwise Uber drivers to make deliveries.
"Entrepreneurship in the competitive cocaine market is evident from innovative distribution strategies, such as cocaine-exclusive call centres," the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction concluded.
"These new methods appear to reflect to some extent the type of disruption seen in other areas facilitated by the common use of smartphones, a potential 'Uberisation' of the cocaine trade. '[This is] a competitive market in which sellers compete by offering additional services such as fast and flexible delivery options."
In Australia, authorities suspect those fast delivery options including using taxi and Uber services.
In December 2017 three taxi drivers bragged "we go anywhere" on police intercepted smartphone chats as they delivered cocaine all over Sydney from the Northern Beaches to Cronulla and to the foot of the Blue Mountains in Penrith and Wollongong.
"This was a sophisticated criminal operation which ran a drug dealing network along the lines of that legitimate business, using mobile phones for customers to place orders and, in most cases, taxis driven by an offender to satisfy those orders," NSW District Court judge Peter Berman said as he described the service "a drug version of Uber eats".
Also in that year, a high-flying network of stockbrokers and IT consultants working on Castlereagh Street in Sydney city used 25-year-old Uber driver Asfia Akhtar to make cocaine drop-offs during his driving shifts.
Police sources said there was no doubt the demand for the drug was so high and access easier, "ordinary" people were becoming involved in the trade.
"Increased competition has led to an Uberisation of the cocaine trade which has become more flexible to meet demand and ironically I would not be surprised if Ubers are being used, unwittingly or otherwise, to help make deliveries quicker and easier," a senior officer said.
According the ACIC report, wastewater analysis has shown Australians consume an average 4.1 tonne of cocaine each year. While the weight of cocaine seized nationally decreased in the past 12 months to 1,970kgs, it was still the second highest in the last decade.