Drugs of concern

What drugs do people seek treatment for?

The most common principal drug of concern that led clients to seek treatment for their own drug use was alcohol.

People may seek AOD treatment services due to experiencing problematic use with one or more drugs. Most people have one drug that is of greater concern for them and their treatment will typically focus on this drug; this is referred to as the principal drug of concern (PDOC). Clients who use more than one drug can also report additional drugs of concern.

Principal drugs of concern

In 2018–19, the most common PDOCs that led clients to seek treatment for their own drug use were alcohol (36% of treatment episodes), amphetamines (28%), cannabis (20%) and heroin (5%). This pattern was similar for both males and females, and Indigenous clients. There was variation across age groups in the most common PDOCs.

Of the 28% (58,176) of closed treatment episodes where Amphetamines were reported as a principal drug of concern in 2018–19, almost two-thirds (66%) were for methamphetamines. Specific coding for methamphetamine episodes have not previously been available due to the nature of the coding structure. This has improved over time, due to improved workforce training and new system updates.

Cannabis was the most common PDOC (58% of closed treatment episodes) for clients aged 10–19, while amphetamines were the most common for clients aged 20–29 years and 30–39 years (36% and 38%, respectively), and alcohol was the most common for clients aged 40 and over (56%).

Alcohol was the most common PDOC for which clients received treatment in all states and territories except Western Australia and South Australia, where amphetamines were the most common (34% and 37% of closed treatment episodes, respectively). Among all states and territories, Queensland had the greatest proportion of closed treatment episodes for cannabis (28%) as a PDOC while the Australian Capital Territory had the greatest proportion for heroin (11%) as a PDOC.

Over the period from 2014–15 to 2018–19

Alcohol continued to be the most common PDOC for clients seeking treatment for their own drug use, comprising over one-third of treatment episodes in both 2014–15 (38%) and 2018–19 (36%). In the same period, the proportion of episodes with cannabis as the PDOC fell from 24% to 20%, while episodes with amphetamines as the PDOC increased from 20% to 28%. Heroin remained the fourth most common PDOC, accounting for 6% of treatment episodes in 2014–15 and 5% in 2018–19.

Nationally, where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern, over one-third of episodes (37% or 11,963 treatment episodes) reported methamphetamine only in 2014–15, rising to 50% (24,733 episodes) in 2016–17 and 66% (38,470 episodes) in 2018–19 (table 1); Over the same time episodes reported for amphetamines (general) decreased as coding practices improved for methamphetamines. The rise in reported episodes for methamphetamines can be attributed to a range of factors including improvements in agency coding practices for methamphetamines, treatment system updates and increases in funded treatment services.

Table 1: Closed treatment episodes proportions for Amphetamine (ASCDC) codes, 2014–15 to 2018–19 (per cent)

 

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

Amphetamines (general)

47.1

41.3

40.6

41.2

25.7

Methamphetamines

36.9

45.8

49.8

51.4

66.1

Other amphetamines

16.0

12.9

9.6

7.4

8.2

Note: Other amphetamine category includes Amphetamine analogues, Dexamphetamine, Amphetamines not elsewhere classified.

Among clients seeking treatment for their own drug use, the number of closed treatment episodes with codeine as the PDOC decreased by nearly half (49%) from 2014–15 (1,222 treatment episodes) to 2018–19 (618 episodes). Similarly, closed treatment episodes with morphine as the PDOC decreased by 37%, from 1,396 episodes in 2014–15 to 875 in 2018–19. By contrast, the number of treatment episodes with cocaine as the PDOC increased by 215% between 2014–15 (558 episodes) and 2018–19 (1,756 episodes).

Additional drugs of concern

Clients reported at least one additional drug of concern in less than half (41%) of all closed treatment episodes.

In addition to the principal drug of concern, clients are able to nominate up to five additional drugs of concern; these drugs are not necessarily the subject of any treatment within the episode. In 2018–19, clients reported at least one additional drug of concern in less than half (41%) of all closed treatment episodes. Consistent with previous years, the most common additional drugs of concern in 2018–19 were cannabis (17% of closed treatment episodes), nicotine (16%), alcohol (12%) and amphetamines (9%).

The type of additional drug often varies by PDOC. For example, of those closed treatment episodes where an additional drug of concern was reported, cannabis was the most common when the PDOC was alcohol (33% of closed treatment episodes), amphetamines (33%), or benzodiazepines (21%). Comparatively, amphetamines were the most common additional drug of concern when the PDOC was heroin (26%), buprenorphine (20%), or other opioids (16%).