Summary

Tobacco

Based on the results of the 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), 17% of the Australian population aged 14 years and over were daily smokers. Approximately one in four Australians (26%) was an ex-smoker and just over half the population (53%) had never smoked.

Overall, men were more likely than women to be smokers. In 2004, 19% of males were daily smokers, compared with 16% of females. People aged 20–29 years of age had the highest smoking rates, with 24% of this age group smoking daily.

Smoking rates declined over the period 1991 to 2004 (from 24% to 17% for daily smokers). During the 2004–05 financial year, the Australian Government collected over $6.7 billion in revenue from the importation and sale of tobacco products in Australia.

The decline in smoking rates in Australia over the past three decades has resulted in Australia being ranked one of the lowest of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in terms of the prevalence of daily smoking.

Alcohol

In 2004, around 84% of the population aged 14 years and over had consumed at least one full serve of alcohol in the last 12 months. People were most likely to drink either weekly (41%) or less than weekly (34%); 9% of Australians consumed alcohol on a daily basis. People aged 60 years and over recorded the highest prevalence of daily drinking (17%).

The pattern of alcohol consumption by the Australian population has remained relatively unchanged over the period 1991 to 2004.

Overall, males were more likely to consume alcohol daily (12%) or weekly (48%) compared with females (6% and 35% respectively).

Around one in five Australians (35%) aged 14 years and over consumed alcohol at risky or high-risk levels for short-term risk on at least one occasion in the last 12 months. One in ten Australians consumed alcohol at levels that are considered risky or high risk for alcoholrelated harm in the long term.

Consistent with the trends in reported consumption, the apparent consumption of alcohol by Australians measured in litres per capita has remained stable during the past decade.

In 2003, Australia ranked 22nd highest in the world in terms of per capita consumption of alcohol, with approximately 7.2 litres equivalent of pure alcohol consumed per person. This corresponded to an annual per capita consumption of approximately 92 litres of beer, 20 litres of wine and 1 litre of pure alcohol from spirits.

Illicit drugs

Based on responses to the 2004 NDSHS, 38% of Australians aged 14 years and over had used any illicit drug at least once in their lifetime, and 15% had used any illicit drug at least once in the last 12 months.

Marijuana/cannabis was the most common illicit drug used, with one in three persons (34%) having used it at least once in their lifetime and 11% of the population having used it in the previous 12 months.

Recent illicit drug use was most prevalent among persons aged between 18 and 29 years in 2004, with almost one in three people (31%) in this age bracket having used at least one illicit drug in the last 12 months.

The proportion of the population who had used any illicit drug in the last 12 months fluctuated between 1991 and 2004, reaching the same level in 2004 as the prevalence in 1991 (15%). While the proportion of people who had recently used marijuana/cannabis in 2004 (11%) was the lowest over this 13-year period, the proportion using ecstasy (3%) was the highest for that substance in the same period.

Methamphetamine use was relatively uncommon in Australia in 2004: around 3% aged 14 years and over had used it in the last 12 months and 9% in their lifetime. Powder was the most common form of methamphetamine used (74%). The majority of users reported taking the drug in their own home or at a friend's house (66%).

Pharmaceuticals

Of the 234 million prescription medicines dispensed in 2005, 79% were subsidised by the Australian Government. The two prescription medicines distributed most frequently through community pharmacies, with the greatest cost to the government and with the highest defined daily dose per 1,000 population, were both medications prescribed for lipid reduction (lowering of blood cholesterol).

Drugs and health

In 2003, it was estimated that 8% of the burden of disease in Australia was attributable to tobacco use and 2% to illicit drug use. Three per cent of the total burden of disease was attributable to alcohol consumption. However, alcohol was also estimated to prevent 1% of the burden of disease in 2003.

Among those seeking assistance from health professionals, depression and anxiety were the most common mental health problems for which injecting drug users sought assistance (68% and 38% respectively).

According to the annual Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) Survey, hepatitis C prevalence among people attending needle and syringe programs remained high over the period 1997 to 2005, at around 60%.

In 2005, 46% of injecting drug users surveyed had overdosed at some point in their lifetime. The death rate from accidental opioid overdose among people aged 15–54 years increased during the late 1990s, peaking at 101.9 deaths per million persons in 1999, before declining sharply to 34.6 deaths per million persons in 2001. Since 2001, the death rate from accidental opioid overdose has declined slightly, to 31.3 deaths per million persons in 2004.

Special population groups

Young people

Based on results from a nationally representative study, smoking prevalence and alcohol consumption declined among secondary students aged 12–17 years between 1999 and 2005. The use of various illicit drugs by this population group either declined or remained stable during this time.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2004–05, 16% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples drank at risky and high-risk levels in the last week; 24% had not consumed alcohol in the last 12 months. Approximately half (52%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reported that they were current smokers, 23% that they had used marijuana/cannabis in the last 12 months and 28% that they had used an illicit substance in the last 12 months.

Pregnant women

Recent research linking birth records to hospital data indicates that mothers who give birth with an illicit drug-related diagnosis (opioids, stimulants or cannabis) are more likely to be younger, unmarried, Australian-born and Indigenous. Births in mothers with opioid, stimulant or cannabis diagnosis are linked to several negative birth outcomes (e.g. low birthweight).

Prisoners

In 2004, almost 60% of prisoners reported a history of injecting drug use. Prisoners who injected drugs were more likely to test positive for hepatitis C (56%) and hepatitis B (27%) than non-injecting drug users in prison. Less than 1% of prisoners in 2004 tested positive for the HIV antibody.

Employees

Significant differences in the level of short-term and long-term risk levels were identified between industry groups for employed recent drinkers in 2001. Patterns of alcohol consumption were also closely linked to the prevalence of negative work-related behaviours and absenteeism. As the frequency of risky and high-risk alcohol consumption increased, so, too, did the proportion of employees missing days of work in the last 3 months, the proportion of people attending work under the influence of alcohol, and the proportion of employees who usually drank at work.

Treatment services

In the 2004–05 Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS-NMDS) collection, alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in treatment episodes (37%), followed by marijuana/cannabis (23%), heroin (17%) and meth/amphetamine (11%). The proportion of treatment episodes where alcohol was the principal drug of concern increased with age, while the proportion of episodes where marijuana/cannabis was the principal drug of concern decreased with age.

Treatment episodes for clients aged 20–29 years were the most diverse in terms of drug type, with roughly similar proportions of episodes for alcohol, marijuana/cannabis, heroin and meth/amphetamine.

In 2004–05, one-quarter of treatment episodes involved clients who identified themselves as current injectors.

Almost 39,000 clients were receiving pharmacotherapy treatment at 30 June 2005, with the majority of these treatments received from a private prescriber (70%). Excluding clients where the type of drug used could not be identified, there were 25,369 (72%) methadone maintenance therapy clients and 9,947 (28%) buprenorphine maintenance therapy clients.

Crime and law enforcement

Marijuana/cannabis accounted for 71% of illicit drug arrests in 2004–05, compared with 13% of arrests related to amphetamine-type stimulants.

In 2004, one in ten sentenced prisoners was imprisoned for drug-related offences. The most common drug-related offence for which people were imprisoned was dealing/trafficking drugs.

Results based on the 2003–04 Drug Use Career of Offenders (DUCO) study show that 88% of juvenile detainees had used an illicit drug in the 6 months prior to their arrest, while 70% were intoxicated at the time of offence. The study also shows that juvenile detainees were 10 times more likely than adolescents in the general population to use amphetamine and hallucinogens and 16 times more likely to use inhalants.