11 November 2011


The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare has released Drugs in Australia 2010: tobacco, alcohol and other drugs [PDF], a handy 175 page compendium of statistics on substance abuse.

The report -
presents information on the prevalence of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use in the community; and on treatment services, drug-related health issues, and drugs in crime and law enforcement. It includes a special focus on two areas Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and patterns of drug use at key life stages.
It suggests that "tobacco and alcohol are the drugs most commonly used by the Australian population" (caffeine in coffee and tea don't make the cut), with tobacco smoking being the leading cause of preventable illness and death in Australia, accounting for 8% of the total burden of disease in 2003. Total smoking-related costs to society — including those for healthcare and lost productivity, and intangible social costs — were estimated as $31.5bn in 2004–05.

Among key smoking stats the report indicates that -
In 2010, one in seven (15%) Australians aged 14 years or over were daily smokers, and one in four (24%) were ex-smokers. More than half the population (59%) had never smoked. Daily smoking rates have fallen by more than a third over the past two decades, from 24% in 1991. This is largely due to lower rates of smoking among adults aged 24–44 years.
Alcohol consumption was also popular -
Close to four in five (78%) Australians aged 12 years or over had consumed alcohol over the previous year in 2010, including 46% who drank at least weekly. There was a significant decline in daily drinking between 2007 and 2010 (from 8.1% to 7.2% of the population aged 12 years or over).

Most people drank at levels that did not put them at risk of harm. However, 28% of males and 11% of females drank alcohol at levels that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime. In addition, 23% of males and 9% of females consumed alcohol in quantities that put them at risk of alcohol-related injury from a single drinking occasion at least weekly. An estimated 13.1% of people aged 14 years or older had driven a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in 2010.

The consumption of alcohol was estimated to cost Australian society $15.3 billion, in 2004–05 (Collins & Lapsley 2008a). These costs included both tangible costs (such as for healthcare, road accidents and crime) and intangible costs, including for pain and suffering. The majority of social costs for alcohol (71%) were tangible costs. Businesses bore 50% of tangible costs and governments 26%, with individuals making up the balance.
In discussing illicit drugs the report suggests that 60% of Australians aged 14 years and over () had never used an illicit drug. Around 15% had used one or more illicit drugs in 2009-10, most commonly cannabis (10.3%) followed by ecstasy (3.0%) and amphetamines and cocaine (each used by 2.1% of people). The social cost of illicit drug use in Australia was estimated at $8.2 billion in 2004–05, including costs associated with crime, lost productivity and healthcare. Illicit drug use accounted for 2% of Australia’s total burden of disease in 2003, in particular that caused by hepatitis C. Around 8% of people in Australia aged 16–85 years have had a drug use disorder (including harmful use/abuse and/or dependence) in their lifetime.

There were over 85,000 arrests in 2009–10 for illicit drug offences; two-thirds involved cannabis. 81% were for use or possession rather than other drug-related offences such as manufacture or trafficking. One in ten sentenced prisoners in 2010 had an illicit drug offence recorded as their most serious offence — largely manufacturing or trafficking and almost two-thirds of adults detained by police tested positive to illicit drugs in 2010 (typically cannabis (46% of males and 43% of females), followed by amphetamines (17% of males and 22% of females) and opiates (15% of males and 24% of females)).

People entering prison (for any offence) had high rates of drug use compared with the general population. In 2010, three in four (74%) prison entrants smoked daily and two-thirds (66%) reported using illicit drugs in the past 12 months.