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Illicit use of drugs is a direct cause of death and disability as well as being a risk factor for a number of diseases which affect drug users and the wider community. The relative health impact of the illicit use of drugs varies depending on the specific type of drug used and the circumstances of its use. Overall, however, illicit use of drugs (and illicit drug use disorders) account for an increasing proportion of the global burden of disease (moving from the 18th to 15th ranking risk factor between 1990 and 2010) (IHME 2013). Illicit use of drugs, also referred to here as ‘illicit drug use’, includes use of illegal drugs, non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs (an illicit behaviour), and inappropriate use of other substances (such as inhalants).
In the context of illicit drug use, a pharmaceutical is ‘a drug that is available from a pharmacy, over-the-counter or by prescription, which may be subject to misuse’ (MCDS 2011). In the 2013 NDSHS, pharmaceuticals surveyed which may be subject to misuse were pain-killers/analgesics, tranquillisers, steroids, methadone/buprenorphine or other opiates (not including heroin).
The 2013 Survey was the first NDSHS to collect data on use of emerging psychoactive substances (EPS). EPS is a term used to describe drugs that are relatively new to the recreational drug market and have mind-altering effects similar to conventional illicit drugs (including those known as meow meow, kronic and BZP) (NDARC 2013).
In 2013, 8.3% of the population had been a victim of an illicit-drug related incident. Verbal abuse was the most frequently reported incident overall, and the proportion experiencing physical abuse by someone under the influence of illicit drugs increased significantly from 2.2% in 2010 to 3.1% in 2013.
Illicit use of drugs data from the 2013 NDSHS is available in the supplementary tables.