Illicit drug use is associated with many risks of harm to the user 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 social and family disruptions, violence, and crime and community safety issues [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 1.8% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2011 (including the impact of injecting drug use, and cocaine, opioid, amphetamine and cannabis dependence). The burden attributable to drug use has increased—it moved from being the 10th top ranking risk factor for disease and injury in Australia in 2003 to the 9th in 2011.


  1. MCDS (Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy) 2011. The National Drug Strategy 2010–2015. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  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.