fbpx Australian government spending on drugs (drug budgets) | NDARC - National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

Australian government spending on drugs (drug budgets)

image - Dpmp13 Square
Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

Colonial Foundation Trust

Drug Type:
Project Members: 
image - Marian Shanahan
Dr Marian Shanahan
Conjoint Senior Lecturer
Project Main Description: 

The aim of this project was to update and further develop the Moore (2005) Australian drug budget. As in the earlier Moore project, our study examined both federal and state and territory government spending in response to illicit drugs but only included proactive spending. This is the amount directly spent by government on illicit drug policy. The expenditures weare broken down into the areas of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Dr Ross McLeod (Consultant - eSYS Development)

  1. update the expenditure framework developed by Moore (2005) for classifying and measuring government drug spending in Australia; 
  2. develop a framework for identifying which drug-specific interventions are included in the cost analysis, along with the assumptions underpinning calculations being presented; and
  3. calculate annual drug expenditure for the year 2009/10 by the federal and state/territory governments in Australia.
Design and Method: 
It is important that each spending estimate is calculated using the same method. To this end, we used a top-down, rather than bottom-up accounting method to estimate total spending within each category. The actual amounts calculated are less important than the relative distribution among policy pillars.
The steps involved included:
  1. Identify all types of interventions and areas of spending. Define those that are ‘direct’ spending.
  2. Categorise interventions into Prevention, Treatment, Enforcement, Harm Reduction
  3. Using top-down accounting methods, access and review multiple data sources to ascertain spending estimates and calculate spending, applying adjustments as required.
The results revealed that Australian governments spent approximately $1.7 billion in 2009/10 on illicit drugs. This included programs to prevent or delay the commencement of drug use in young people, drug treatment services including counselling and pharmacotherapy maintenance, harm reduction programs such as the needle syringe program, police detection and arrest in relation to drug crimes and policing the borders of Australia for illegal importation of drugs and their precursors. 
The $1.7 billion amount equates to 0.13% of GDP, and 0.8% of all government spending. In 2009/10 it represented per person spending of $76.28.  
The relative allocations to the four policy domains were as follows: 
Policy domain $ million Percentage
Prevention 156.8 9.2
Treatment 361.8 21.3
Harm reduction 36.1 2.1
Law enforcement 1123.3 66.0
Other 23.1 1.4
TOTAL 1701.1 100

DPMP Monograph 24: Government drug policy expenditure in Australia - 2009/10 (published August 2013).


The data from this study provide information on the funding mix in illicit drug policy. Illicit drugs cause significant health, social and economic burdens on Australian society. Australian governments’ investment in this area represents a tiny component of all government spending (0.8%). The extent to which the policy mix of spending across domains identified here represents efficient spending cannot be ascertained from this study; new research examining the relative cost-efficiencies for each of the four policy domains is now required.

Project Research Area: 
Drug Type: 
Project Status: 
Year Completed: