Surge In Ketamine Imports Into Australia

Authorities are seizing a record amount of ketamine reaching Australian borders, sparking concerns criminals are increasing their efforts to import the dangerous prohibited substance.

Authorities seized 882kg of ketamine in 2023 – a dangerous sedative that can cause disorientation, memory loss, depression, seizures and even death. The amount seized was more than double the 415kg seized in 2022.

AFP intelligence has identified transnational serious organised crime (TSOC) syndicates are also using more sophisticated means to attempt to hide the illicit substance in a bid to evade law enforcement.

In July 2023, 84kg of ketamine was hidden inside two new commercial vans on board a cargo ship destined for Sydney.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers searched the ship when it stopped at Melbourne and allegedly found 79 plastic bags containing the drug hidden inside the panels of two vehicles.

Three men were charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and their alleged involvement in the transnational crime syndicate and remain before the courts.

In the same month the AFP, with the assistance of its law enforcement partners, was responsible for the largest ketamine seizure in Australia after 145kg of the drug was detected in Victoria.

About 80kg of the drug was allegedly concealed in 40 buckets of liquid micro cement which arrived in Melbourne by sea cargo.

The AFP seized a total of 145kg of ketamine, including about 65kg buried at a Lara address, near Geelong.

Three men have been charged in relation to the investigation and remain before the courts.

In October, a Taiwanese national was charged after 250g of ketamine, contained in white and orange capsules inside two vitamin bottles, was allegedly found in his luggage.

ABF officers searched the man at Brisbane International Airport and allegedly detected the drugs, before referring the matter to the AFP.

The man has been charged with attempting to import border controlled drugs and remains before the courts.

On Friday 1 March 2024, an estimated 20kg of ketamine was allegedly located by ABF officers hidden in the suitcases of an 18-year-old UK national on his arrival at Sydney International Airport.

The incident was referred to the AFP and the teenager was charged with importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The man appeared before Downing Centre Local Court on the same day and was formally refused bail. He is next expected to appear at court on 1 May 2024.

AFP Acting Commander Kristy Scott said ketamine was a highly-dangerous and addictive substance.

“Ketamine is a dangerous and illicit sedative. Its dissociative effects block sensory brain signals and can cause memory loss, feelings of being detached from one’s body and prevent their ability to perceive danger,” she said.

“Drug addiction has a profound impact on individuals and the wider community. The AFP, together with our state, territory and Commonwealth law enforcement partners, is committed to preventing the significant harm caused to our community as a result of these illicit drug imports.

“We’re reminding criminals that we not only seizing the drugs but arresting alleged offenders who are connected to the imports. We will continue to work to target your illicit operations, identify you and bring you to justice.”

ABF Assistant Commissioner James Watson said the community can be assured that Border Force officers are highly trained to detect and stop any dangerous substance, such as ketamine, which these criminal syndicates attempt to introduce into our country.

“Australia’s borders are regularly targeted by serious organised crime groups, seeking to make profits from illicit drugs,” Assistant Commissioner Watson said.

“These criminal groups may think they’re being clever in the way they try to bring in these harmful substances, but they should know that the ABF is ready to respond. Everyday our officer’s work at the border to protect the community from the enormous harm criminal groups seek to inflict on us.

“Through collaboration with our law enforcement partners, officers ensure that the border remains a hostile environment for criminals attempting to import illicit drugs.”

The most recent ACIC National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report found ketamine use during April 2023 was at a record high in Australia.

Despite the recent rise in ketamine importations, AFP intelligence indicates the drug market is much smaller compared to other Australian drug markets, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

/Public Release. View in full here.