Illicit drug use

In 2015, 2.7% of the disease burden in Australia was due to illicit drug use. Illicit drug use includes burden from opioids, amphetamines, cocaine and cannabis and other illicit drug use, as well as unsafe injecting practices.

These estimates reflect the amount of disease burden that could have been avoided if all people in Australia had not used illicit drugs.

Illicit drug use contributed to burden for 13 diseases and injuries; 4 types of injuries, 3 infections, liver cancer, chronic liver disease and 4 types of mental and substance use disorders (see Supplementary tables). The linked diseases differed by type of illicit drug.

Individual drug use types

Of the individual drug use types, opioid use was the leading illicit drug use risk, contributing to 1% of the total burden in Australia in 2015. This was followed by amphetamine use (0.6% of total burden in 2015) and unsafe injecting practices (0.5%).

How much burden was attributable to illicit drug use?

Illicit drug use was responsible for almost all burden due to drug use disorders (excluding alcohol), 75% due to acute hepatitis C, 27% of poisoning, 24% of chronic liver disease and liver cancer, and 13% of suicide and self-inflicted injuries.

How did burden attributable to illicit drug use vary by age and sex?

The burden due to illicit drug use was estimated in people aged 15 and over. Disease burden due to illicit drug use was highest in people aged between 25 and 44, peaking in ages 25–34 years.

Males experienced more than twice the disease burden from illicit drug use than females up to age 84 years. Drug use disorders (excluding alcohol) were the largest contributor to the illicit drug use attributable burden in people aged 15 to 34 years. Poisoning was the main contributor to the attributable burden in both males and females aged 35–64.

Did attributable burden vary by socioeconomic group?

Disease burden attributable to illicit drug use was 2.3 times greater in the lowest (most disadvantaged) socioeconomic group compared with the highest (least disadvantaged) group. 

How has disease burden due to illicit drug use changed over time?

The rate of total burden attributable to illicit drug use increased by 18% between 2003 and 2015 (from 4.6 DALY to 5.4 DALY per 1,000 population).