DRUG use and possession crime has more than doubled in Ballarat over the past four years, with the city now topping the state in terms of offences by population density.
The Crime Statistics Agency released a paper into drug use and possession crime in Victoria on Friday, with Ballarat showing a 108.1 per cent increase in incidents between 2011 and 2015, moving from 154.1 to 320.7 per 100,000 people.
The rates were higher than comparable cities, such as Bendigo, which sat at 261.7 and Geelong, with 244.5 per 100,000 people.
Community use of drugs in public places such as streets, footpaths, train and bus stations increased in Ballarat from 58 in 2011 to 180 incidents in 2015.
The Courier is currently waiting on response from Ballarat Police. Overall, regional cities showed higher density of drug use and possession crimes across Victoria than metropolitan or rural areas.
Local drug counsellors didn’t have the answer why Ballarat fared worse than comparable cities, but noted trends in drug use had changed dramatically.
Ballarat Community Health team leader Claire Ryan the increase could be put down to better policing, more reporting from concerned family and friends, or perhaps even Ballarat’s close proximity to bigger centres.
Ballarat drug and alcohol counsellor Stu Fenton said increased public use might be attributable to the fact ice was an easy drug to take in places such as train stations, unlike heroin, “where you need all the paraphernalia”.
He also said improved drug driving detection could be responsible for the higher numbers of people nabbed.
UnitingCare non-residential withdrawal nurse Darren Cutts said he had noticed a dramatic recent increase in Ballarat of synthetic cannabis use, with local establishments selling the products using legal loopholes and labelling it as incense.
“It’s really starting to take off again. It’s quite a volatile drug that can affect mental health. The unknown chronic effects of smoking synthetic cannabis is unknown at this stage but certainly the withdrawal component is worse than regular cannabis,” he said.
Mr Cutts said early education into the perils of drug use was paramount.