National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Australia's National Drug Strategy beyond 2009: consultation paper

Patterns of drug use

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Drug use is a serious and complex problem. It impacts on individuals, families, communities and the economy. Each year drug use contributes to thousands of deaths, significant illness, disease and injury, social and family disruption, workplace concerns, violence, crime and community safety.

The harms caused by drug use cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. The estimated cost of drug abuse to Australian society in 2004-05 was $56.1 billion i. Of this, tobacco accounted for $31.5 billion (56.2 per cent), alcohol accounted for $15.3 billion (27.3 per cent), and illicit drugs $8.2 billion (14.6 per cent).

An estimated 2.3 million Australians aged 14 and over use at least one illicit drug each year. Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, with over 1.5 million Australians using it each year, while 600,000 use ecstasy, 400,000 use methamphetamines and close to 300,000 use cocaine ii. Poly drug use, the use of combination of illicit drugs often with alcohol, is an area of increasing concern, as is the misuse of prescription pharmaceuticals.

Alcohol and tobacco remain the most commonly used drugs in Australia. Annually, close to 6 million Australians aged 14 years and over report drinking alcohol at risky or high risk levels for short term harm, and over 3.3 million Australians smoke iii. Alcohol and tobacco feature in the top seven preventable burdens of disease risk factors. More than 3 per cent of the total burden is attributable to harmful alcohol use and close to 8 per cent is attributed to smoking iv.

Encouragingly, the overall population use of most drugs has declined over the last decade or remained stable at low levels in recent years. However, there is some evidence to suggest that people who are using alcohol and other drugs are experiencing greater harms. Over the last decade more than 800,000 Australians aged 15 years and older were hospitalised for alcohol-attributable injury and disease v.

i Collins DJ & Lapsley H 2008. The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
ii Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008. 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: first results. Drug Statistics Series number 20. cat. no. PHE98. Canberra: AIHW.
iii Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008. 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: first results. Drug Statistics Series number 20. cat. no. PHE98. Canberra: AIHW.
iv Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L and Lopez AD 2007. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. PHE 82. Canberra: AIHW.
v Pascal R, Chikritzhs T & Jones P 2009. Trends in estimated alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology.


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