The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is currently
preparing first releases in a new series of publications about
tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use and its health impact in
Australia. The publications will present results of two separate
studies. The first is the 1998 National Drug Strategy Household
Survey, which the Institute is managing on behalf of the
Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. The second is an
analysis of data on deaths and hospital episodes, updating
available estimates of mortality and morbidity attributable to drug
This release is designed to provide early access to the main
findings from these two studies.
In 1998 the drugs most commonly used in the Australian community
were alcohol, tobacco and marijuana/cannabis. Respectively, 81%,
26% and 18% of people aged 14 years and over had used these drugs
in the past 12 months. For both tobacco and marijuana/cannabis, the
most used illicit drug, significantly higher proportions of the
population (65% and 39% respectively) reported use at some time in
the past, not necessarily recent.
Around 60% of people identified either marijuana/cannabis or
heroin as the drug primarily associated with a drug 'problem'.
Between 1995 and 1998 there was a substantial shift in public
perceptions of these drugs, reflected in an increase from 30% to
37% of persons primarily associating heroin with a drug 'problem'
and a decline from 32% to 21% of persons identifying
marijuana/cannabis. In both years, 14% of persons identified
alcohol and around 5% identified tobacco as primarily associated
with a drug 'problem'.
In 1998, alcohol (61% of people), tobacco (40%) and
marijuana/cannabis (26%) ranked highest as substances whose regular
use by adults is considered acceptable. Regular use of other
illicit drugs is considered acceptable by much smaller proportions
of people, for instance adult regular heroin use is acceptable to 2
per cent of the population. Between 1995 and 1998, the level of
acceptance of adult regular use increased for many drugs, including
marijuana/cannabis (up from 23% to 26%).
In 1998, 22% of the adult population were regular tobacco
smokers, down from 24% in 1995. The highest prevalence of regular
smoking in 1998 was among 20-29 year olds (males 31% and females
Also in 1998, 49% of the population aged 14 years and over
regularly consumed alcohol, up from 44% in 1995. Of those that had
consumed in the past 12 months, 35% usually did so at hazardous or
harmful levels. Over two thirds of 14-19 year olds consumed at
hazardous or harmful levels when they drank alcohol.
Based on the 1998 survey results, around 2.7 million people are
estimated to have used marijuana/cannabis in the past 12 months, or
18% of the population aged 14 years or more. This figure has
increased from 13% in 1995. In the younger age groups-those aged
14-19 years and 20-29 years-the proportion exceeds one third.
Similarly from the 1998 survey, around 113,000 adults living in
households are estimated to have used heroin in the past 12 months.
Heroin use estimates for individual age groups may not be reliable
because of sample error, but the survey suggests that a high
proportion of users are in the 20-29 years age group. Prevalence of
heroin use among males appears to be roughly double that of
females. The estimates also indicate a likely increase in heroin
use from 1995 to 1998.
Around 108,000 adults are estimated to have injected drugs in
the past 12 months. As for heroin use, age dissections are less
reliable, but again, the majority of users appear to be in the
20-29 years age group and there are more males than females.
The use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs produces a
significant health burden on the Australian community. In 1997,
just over 22,700 deaths were attributable to drug use, representing
around 18% of all deaths. Of these, the vast majority were
attributable to tobacco use (18,200), with 3,700 attributable to
hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption and the remainder (around
800) due to illicit drug use.
In the age group 20-29 years, over 40% of male deaths and over
one quarter of female deaths are attributable to the use of
tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs, with the latter two substance
groups dominant. Proportions attributable to alcohol and,
especially, illicit drugs, decline with age but proportions of
deaths attributable to tobacco use peak in the 50-59 years age
group, where they account for 26% of male deaths and 15% of female
Almost 260,000 hospital episodes in 1996-97 were attributable to
drug use. As for deaths, the bulk of the burden lies with tobacco
use (59% of drug-related hospital episodes), followed by alcohol
(37%) and illicit drugs (4%).
31 March 1999
Further information: Geoff Sims, ph. 02 6244
1168, or Paul Williams, ph. 02 6289 6851.For general media enquiries: Lyn Elliott, ph. 02
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