Specialist alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment services are part of a comprehensive approach to reducing demand in Australia—1 of the 3 pillars of harm minimisation that underpin the National Drug Strategy 2017–26.
AOD treatment services provide a broad range of services and support to people affected by substance use. Clients accessing these services commonly experience multiple episodes of treatment spanning several years.
Using the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set, this report looks at the service use patterns of clients who received treatment from publicly funded specialist AOD treatment services between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2018, for 3 client cohorts:
continual service users (2,436 clients or 3%)—clients who received at least 1 closed treatment episode in each collection period between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2018
episodic service users (24,089 clients or 30%)—clients who received at least 1 closed treatment episode in 2014–15, and at least one other closed treatment episode in at least 1 (but not all) of the 3 years after that
transitory service users (54,423 clients or 67%)—clients who received at least 1 closed treatment episode in 2014–15 only.
Transitory service users were younger, and were more likely to receive treatment for another person’s drug use than other client groups
Transitory service users had the highest proportion of clients aged 10–19 (18%), and the highest proportion of clients treated for another person’s drug use (6.8%). Episodic service users had the highest proportion of clients aged 20–29 (29%). Continual service users had the highest proportion of females (36%).
Most continual service users received treatment from multiple agencies, and for a total duration of 12 months or longer
There were fewer continual service users than other client cohorts, but among continual service users, 3 in 4 (75%) clients attended at least 3 agencies, and almost 2 in 3 (64%) received treatment for a total duration of 12 months or longer. More than 1 in 3 (36%) continual service users received 10 or more closed treatment episodes. For transitory service users, the median episode duration was 13 days, almost half that of episodic and continual service users (24 days).
Alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern across service user types
Alcohol was the principal drug of concern in 37% of closed episodes for continual and transitory service users, and in 33% of closed episodes for episodic service users. Transitory service users had the highest proportion of closed episodes where cannabis was the principal drug of concern (32%). Continual service users had the highest proportion of closed episodes where amphetamine (30%) or heroin (7.3%) was the principal drug of concern.
Linking data could provide more comprehensive information
This analysis only looks at clients whose treatment episodes were reported to the AIHW for the period 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2018. Linkage to other data sets might help provide more comprehensive and nuanced information on client circumstances and patterns of service use. Similarly, investigating main treatment type and the reasons why repeat service users cease treatment would provide further understanding of the factors affecting client engagement and retention in treatment.