Drugs of concern

People may seek alcohol and other drug treatment services due to problematic use of alcohol and/or one or more drug. The principal drug of concern is the main substance that the client stated led them to seek treatment from the AOD treatment agency. It is assumed that only the person using the substance themselves can accurately report their principal drug of concern; therefore these data are not collected from those who seek treatment for someone else’s drug use. Clients can nominate up to 5 additional drugs of concern; these are referred to as additional drugs of concern but are not necessarily the subject of any treatment within the episode.

Information on clients and treatment agencies are included in the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) when a treatment episode provided to a client is closed (see Key terminology and glossary).

Key findings

In 2019–20, nationally:

  • alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern (34% of episodes) followed by amphetamines (28%), cannabis (18%), and heroin (5%); together these four drugs accounted for 85% of all treatment episodes
  • alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in all remoteness areas, with the highest proportion of alcohol treatment episodes located in Very remote areas (82%), and the lowest proportion in Major cities (32%)

Over the 10-year period to 2019–20:

  • while the number of treatment episodes for alcohol as the principal drug of concern increased from 68,000 in 2010–11 to 75,000 in 2019–20, proportionally, treatment for alcohol in relation to all drugs decreased from 47% to 34%
  • the top four principal drugs of concern have remained consistent over time, although from 2015–16, amphetamines replaced cannabis as the second most common principal drug of concern
  • the number of closed treatment episodes where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern increased by about 5-fold (rising from around 12,500 episodes up to 61,000)
  • nearly 8 in 10 (78% or 47,600) treatment episodes within the amphetamines group were for methamphetamines as a principal drug of concern, increasing from 12% (1,530 episodes) in 2010–11
  • treatment episodes for cannabis rose by 27% (rising from 31,700 to 40,300)
  • the number of heroin treatment episodes fell from around 13,300 (9.3%) to 11,100 (5.1%) treatment episodes
  • treatment episodes for cocaine increased around 4-fold (rising from 501 episodes to 2,086) over this period.

Nationally, alcohol has been the most common principal drug of concern up to 2019–20, followed by cannabis up until 2015–16, when amphetamines became the second most common principal drug of concern. Heroin has maintained its place as the fourth most common principal drug of concern. Due to this consistent trend, the focus of this section is on these 4 drugs.

Where a person receives treatment or support for someone else’s alcohol or drug use, the principal drug of concern is not collected, no information is presented in this section on treatment received by people for someone else’s drug use.


Drugs of concern and treatment provided

In 2019–20, 218,319 (92%) of closed treatment episodes provided nationally were for clients receiving treatment for their own alcohol or drug use (Table SE.1).

In 2019–20:

  • the most common principal drugs of concern were alcohol (34% of treatment episodes), amphetamines (28%), cannabis (18%) and heroin (5%)
  • clients reported an additional drug of concern in over one-third (36%) of treatment episodes:
    • 1 in 5 (21%) episodes reported 1 additional drug of concern, 9% reported 2 drugs, 3% reported 3 drugs, 1.4% reported 4 drugs, and 1.2% reported 5 additional drugs of concern
    • cannabis (15%) and nicotine (13%) were reported as the most common additional drugs of concern (tables SD.6, SD.8)
  • the majority of episodes were provided by non-residential treatment facilities (64%), followed by residential treatment facilities and outreach settings (both 13%) (outreach includes any public or private location where services are provided away from the main service location, or a mobile service)
  • episodes provided for the 4 most common principal drugs of concern (alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis, and heroin) were most likely to be provided by non-residential treatment facilities (ranging from 62% to 68%).

Since 2010–11 treatment episodes for clients receiving treatment for their own alcohol or drug use:

  • the number of episodes for alcohol as the principal drug of concern increased from 68,167 in 2010–11 to 75,005 in 2019–20, proportionally, treatment for alcohol in relation to all drugs decreased from 47% to 34% over this period
  • the proportion of episodes where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern increased from 9% to 28%.

Over the 10-year period to 2019–20, substantial shifts in treatment activity were reported. Treatment episodes for clients receiving treatment for their own alcohol or drug use:

  • the number of closed treatment episodes increased by 51% (from 144,002 to 218,139)
  • the number of episodes provided for amphetamines as a principal drug of concern increased substantially—rising nearly 5-fold (from 12,563 up to 60,987 treatment episodes)
  • treatment episodes provided for cannabis as a principal drug of concern increased by 27% (from 31,762 to 40,305 episodes)
  • the number of treatment episodes for heroin fell by 17% (from 13,354 to 11,133)
  • the number of treatment episodes for alcohol fluctuated during this time, but it remains the top drug of concern nationally (Table SD.2).

Decreases or increases in certain principal drug treatment episodes in particular years can be subject to administrative anomalies in the data. For example, the drop in all treatment episodes in the 2014–15 and 2016–17 collection years may be partly related to system changes resulting in under-reporting or partial reporting of the number of episodes in some jurisdictions (see the Data quality statement for further details).

 

Figure DRUGS1:  Closed treatment episodes for own alcohol or drug use, by principal drug of concern and additional drugs of concern, 2019–20

 

Note: Totals might not add to 100% due to rounding.

Source: AIHW Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Dataset Tables SD.6, SD.7 and SD.8.

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