Data relating to substance use among Indigenous peoples need improvement

A new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examines the current state of data collections relating to substance use issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.

The report, Drug use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: an assessment of data sources, highlights the fact that Australia already has a relatively large number of data sources and suggests ways to use them to provide a better understanding of substance use issues.

'There are many complexities in collecting reliable information about substance use in general and illicit substances in particular, and these complexities are amplified when collecting information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially those living in small communities,' said report author, Louise York.

Overall, available data sources on this subject are inadequate, in that they fail to provide answers to many of the key questions expressed by stakeholders, such as, what is the level of illicit substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in rural and remote Australia, or how many Indigenous people are currently receiving alcohol or other drug treatment?

Some suggested ways to improve current data collections are to:

  • Continue to improve accurate identification of Indigenous status across all data sources.
  • Develop a core set of questions about substance use and related contextual factors that can be used in various data collections.
  • Improve estimates of substance use among Indigenous people, particularly in relation to illicit substance use in rural and remote locations.
  • Improve information about the number of Indigenous people accessing alcohol and other treatment services, the types of treatment they receive and its outcomes.

'Also key to better utilisation of existing data sources would be to develop an appropriate methodology for gathering information about emerging issues relevant to Indigenous substance use such as petrol sniffing,' Ms York said.

'An examination of emerging issues would ideally produce community-level information that could identify local supply and demand issues. It would also be useful to highlight the characteristics of strong communities versus communities at risk,' she said.


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