In Busted, bestselling writer, Walkley Award-winner and organised-crime expert Keith Moor takes us behind the headlines of the world’s biggest seizure of ecstasy. After getting a lucky break from the actions of a diligent customs officer, the Australian Federal Police swooped on the traffickers. And as they brought in the suspects, the powerful Calabrian mafia was exposed as being at the heart of it all.
Straight from the pages of Busted, here Moor takes a look at the disturbing ecstasy-consuming habits of Australians.
There are two main reasons why Melbourne is the place where the two world’s biggest ecstasy busts were made.
One of them is that international organised-crime gangs are well aware that Australian drug users are prepared to pay much more for illegal drugs than users elsewhere in the world – and that party-loving Australians are huge consumers of ecstasy in particular. You can get an ecstasy tablet in Europe for the equivalent of $6 or so, whereas the going rate for them in Australia is about $40. United Nations figures released in 2014 reveal Australians are easily the world’s biggest users of ecstasy per capita. The fact that Australians are wealthy enough to pay top dollar for ecstasy, and that so many of them use it, makes it an attractive place for organised-crime gangs to ship the product to.
The seizure in Melbourne in 2007 of a world-record 15 million ecstasy tablets with a street value of $440 million, and the bust of 5 million pills seized in Melbourne in 2005, were major coups for the Australian Federal Police. But the sad fact is that so many more pills are getting in undetected, or being made in Australia, that neither of the massive Melbourne busts caused an ecstasy drought on the streets. Most teens and those in their twenties and thirties know where and how to buy ecstasy and speed tablets – and do so in huge numbers.
Australian Crime Commission figures reveal there was a 556 per cent increase in the number of pill-producing clandestine laboratories detected in Australia between 1998 and 2008. More than 2 million Australians have taken ecstasy and amphetamine-based pills. That’s despite the fact that such pills are often laced with potentially lethal substances such as the nerve-numbing horse tranquilliser ketamine, morphine, anti-anxiety medication and a substance used to treat dogs and cats for incontinence. I watched as ecstasy tablets seized from a dealer were analysed at the Victoria Police forensic science centre. The pills contained a deadly cocktail of various chemicals capable of causing cancer, strokes, heart and anxiety attacks, high blood pressure and psychiatric disorders.
Many pills sold as ecstasy in Australia don’t actually contain any MDMA, the major chemical component of ecstasy. MDMA is expensive and hard to get so most makers in Australia use speed and other dangerous chemicals instead. There is no quality control in the filthy backyard laboratories that produce ecstasy and fake ecstasy tablets. The low-life bikies and greedy gangsters who make them don’t care what they put in them. You could take six ecstasy tablets on Friday night and have enough energy to rave until dawn. You could take three on Saturday night and not feel any different. You could take one on Sunday and die. Such is the unpredictability of the ecstasy and speed tablets that have swept the rave and nightclub scene in Australia and elsewhere.