Updated: 04/29/2014 13:18 | By Agence France-Presse

Australia's illicit drugs trade hits all-time high

Australia's illicit drugs trade, led by cannabis and crystal meth, is at an all-time high with nearly 20 tonnes of narcotics seized last year and a record number of arrests, a government report said on Tuesday.

Australia's illicit drugs trade hits all-time high

A handout photo received on February 28, 2013 showing Australian Federal Police a seizure of methamphetamine

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC), which prepared the annual report, said the situation was "a gravely serious issue" with international cartels at the heart of the problem.

"National illicit drug seizures and arrests were at record or decade highs for nearly all drug types in this reporting period," said ACC acting chief executive Paul Jevtovic.

"Organised crime remains an ever-present pillar of the drug trade," he added.

"Illicit drug use in Australia, and the profits gained from it, is directly linked to transnational organised crime groups that are implicated in large-scale criminality and corruption overseas."

During the last financial year, running to July 2013, a record 101,749 arrests were made and there were 86,918 seizures of illicit drugs -- a 66 percent increase over the past decade.

While cannabis continues to dominate the Australian market, the prevalance of cocaine and performance-enhancing drugs was at record highs.

There was also a massive surge in the availability of the drug ice -- or crystal methylamphetamine -- which is now second only to cannabis in popularity, with seizures up more than 300 percent in a year.

Jevtovic said the trend was alarming, with use of the drug associated with violent assaults as users can become highly aggressive.

"The entrenched and evolving market for the production, distribution and use of methylamphetamine, particularly crystalline methylamphetamine is currently a national concern," he said.

"With its relative accessibility, affordability and destructive side-effects, crystal methylamphetamine is emerging as a pandemic akin to the issue of 'crack' cocaine in the United States."

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