Illicit drug use is associated with many risks of harm to the person consuming the substance and to their family and friends. It has both short-term and long-term health effects, which can be severe, including poisoning, heart damage, mental illness, self-harm, suicide and death [2]. Illicit drug use also contributes to negative outcomes in health, legal, social and economic settings [1].

'Illicit use of a drug' or 'illicit drug use' (used interchangeably) can include:

  • illegal drugs—a drug that is prohibited from manufacture, sale or possession in Australia—for example, cannabis and cocaine
  • pharmaceuticals—a drug that is available from a pharmacy, over the counter or by prescription, which may be subject to misuse—for example, opioid-based pain relief medications and over-the-counter codeine
  • other psychoactive substances—legal or illegal, potentially used in a harmful way—for example, inhalants (such as petrol, paint or glue), kava, synthetic cannabis and other synthetic drugs [1].

Illicit drug use was responsible for 2.3% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2018 (including the impact of opioids, amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis and other illicit drug use, as well as unsafe injecting practices). The rate of total burden of disease and injury attributable to illicit drug use increased by 35% between 2003 and 2018.


  1. DoH (Department of Health) 2017. National Drug Strategy 2017–2026. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 28 March 2022.
  2. NRHA (National Rural Health Alliance) 2015. Illicit drug use in rural Australia (600KB PDF). Fact sheet 33, June 2015. Canberra: NRHA. Viewed 28 September 2015.