Nine Million Australian Drug Users And Counting

Australians are smoking less, drinking about the same, but taking way more drugs than before, according to the National Drug Survey.

Nearly half of all Aussies aged 14 and over have reportedly taken an illicit drug according to the recent national drug survey of more than 22,00 Australians.

Conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), results from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show 43% Australians aged 14 and over had illicitly used a drug at some point in their lifetime, with 16.8% having used an illicit drug in the past 12 months.

Lifetime use among people aged 14 and over revealed 7.6 million cannabis users, 2.6 million ecstasy takers, 2.3 million cocaine sniffers, 2.2 million hallucinogenic trip takers and a partridge in a pear tree.

According to the results, all measured drug use increased, with cannabis use growing from 10.4% to 11.6%, and hallucinogens rising by 0.6% to 1.6%. However, of those cannabis users, only 2.7% are using it for medical purposes, "either always or sometimes," and only 3.9% obtained it via a prescription.

On the topic of cannabis, 41% now favour legalisation, while only 37% are in opposition. It's lowest level since the survey began in 2004.

Cocaine use, on the other hand, nearly doubled from 2.5% to 4.2%, with recent cocaine use now at the highest proportion in 18 years. It should be noted, however, that these results are from before the summer bushfires and COVID-19, so we'll have to wait till next year to measure its impact on Australian drug use.

The decline in non-medical use of pharmaceuticals from 4.8% to 4.2% resulted mainly from the 2018 reclassification of medications containing codeine. Although it does appear no one is interested in 'new and emerging psychoactive substances' like Mephedrone, NBOMe, and Flakka, with use dropping from 0.3% to 0.1%.

The good news for young people is that 14–29-year-olds are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or consume illicit drugs than previous generations. The highest reported use came from those over the age of 40, while those age 30 showed reduced drug use.

Older Australians were also more likely to smoke daily (40-year-olds 15.8%), and drink alcohol daily, with the highest proportion of daily drinks aged over 70 (12.6%). Fortunately, the tobacco smoking rate has fallen by 11% overall with alcohol consumption also remaining stable.

"Smoking rates have more than halved since 1991 when almost one quarter (24%) of Australians were daily smokers," said AIHW spokesperson Dr Gabrielle Phillips, highlighting the cost of smoking as a motivating factor for smokers to quit or cut back, with 58% in 2019 compared with 52% in 2016.

The survey mirrors similar investigations in June 2019 by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) through the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP). Now covering approximately 54% of the Australian population—around 12.6 million people – the report "provides statistically valid datasets of drug use and distribution patterns across a large number of sites in capital cities and regional Australia".

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael Phelan APM said: "the Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses".

Included in the report is an updated SCORE data number, which is used to provide international drug consumption comparisons for several stimulant drugs monitored by the program. Of the 25 countries with comparable data, Australia ranks second highest for total estimated stimulant consumption, despite ranking "relatively low" for cocaine use. That being said, the average consumption of cocaine, alcohol and heroin in capital cities exceeded regional consumption.

Considering the drug survey reveals 69% of people try drugs for the first time out of curiosity, and 71% continue to use drugs because 'they enjoy it', it would appear foolish to think it's going away anytime soon.

It's time to end the war on drugs.

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Elliot Nash
Elliot Nash

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