Mental illness rising among meth/amphetamine and ecstasy users

Mental illnesses are becoming more common among meth/amphetamine and ecstasy users, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings 2016, builds on preliminary results released in June, and gives further insight into Australians’ use of, and attitudes to, drugs and alcohol in 2016.

The report shows that among people who had recently (in the last 12 months) used an illicit drug, about 27% had been diagnosed or treated for a mental illness—an increase from 21% in 2013. Rates of mental illness were particularly high—and saw the most significant increases—for meth/amphetamine and ecstasy users.

‘In 2016, 42% of meth/amphetamine users had a mental illness, up from 29% in 2013, while the rate of mental illness among ecstasy users also rose from 18% to 27%,’ said AIHW spokesperson Matthew James.

‘Drug use is a complex issue, and it’s difficult to determine to what degree drug use causes mental health problems, and to what degree mental health problems give rise to drug use’.

Similarly, the report also reveals a complex relationship between employment status and drug use.

‘For example, people who were unemployed were about 3 times as likely to have recently used meth/amphetamines as employed people, and about 2 times as likely to use cannabis or smoke tobacco daily. On the other hand, employed people were more likely to use cocaine than those who were unemployed,’ Mr James said.

Today’s report also shows higher rates of drug use among people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, with the largest differences seen in the use of ecstasy and meth/amphetamines.

‘Homosexual and bisexual people were almost 6 times as likely as heterosexual people to use each of these drugs, and were also about 4 times as likely to use cocaine as heterosexual people, and 3 times more likely to use cannabis or misuse pharmaceutical drugs.’ Mr James said.

Overall, about 1 in 20 Australians reported misusing pharmaceuticals, with 75% of recent painkiller users reporting misusing an ‘over the counter’ codeine product in the past 12 months. The AIHW will be publishing comprehensive data on pharmaceutical misuse later in 2017.

‘Our report also shows that more Australians are in favour of the use of cannabis in clinical trials to treat medical conditions—87% now support its use, up from 75% in 2013. We also found that 85% of people now support legislative changes to permit its use for medical purposes in general, up from 69% in 2013,’ Mr James said.

In addition to illicit drugs, today’s report also provides insights into Australians’ use of alcohol and tobacco, and notes some improvements in risky behaviour (such as driving while under the influence of alcohol), as well as improved smoking rates among people living in lower socioeconomic areas.

The report also contains data for each state and territory in Australia, and shows differences in drug use between the jurisdictions. For example, recent use of meth/amphetamine was highest in Western Australia, but the use of cocaine was highest in New South Wales.

Canberra, 28 September 2017