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Drug statistics

Illicit drug use in the last 12 months

According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 15.6% of Australians had used an illicit drug in the last 12 months. The South Australian percentage was no different at 15.7%. The Recent use of any illicit drug 2001-2016 (PDF 11KB) graph illustrates this finding.

The most commonly used illicit drug in South Australia in 2016 was cannabis (10.7%) followed by cocaine (2%), meth/amphetamine (1.9%) and ecstasy (1.6%); note that ecstasy use decreased significantly from 2.8% in 2013. The percentage of men who reported using illicit drugs was higher than that of women (18.7% compared with 13.2%) and the age group with the highest percentage of people who reported recent illicit drug use was aged 18-24 years (28.9%).

Illicit drug use among secondary school students

The proportion of secondary school students who had ever used at least one illicit drug (includes cannabis, methamphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens) has decreased significantly since 1996. In 2017, 13.5% of students reported ever using at least one illicit drug; this remained stable between 2014 and 2017.

In 2017, there were no significant differences between male and female students: 13.1% of male students reported ever using at least one illicit drug compared with 13.9% of female students. However, there were differences in use by age group: those aged 16-17 years were significantly more likely to have ever used at least one illicit drug (19% vs. 10.3% of those aged 12-15 years) or to have used in the last year (18.2% vs. 7.8%). Data on illicit drug use in the last week was not included due to unreliable estimates.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug, 10.7% of secondary school students in 2017 had ever used cannabis. This has remained stable since 2008, although there has been a significant decrease since 1996.

In 2017, there were no significant differences between male and female students: 10.6% of male students reported ever using at cannabis compared with 10.7% of female students. However, there were differences in use by age group: those aged 16-17 years were significantly more likely to have ever used at least one illicit drug (18% vs. 6.8% of those aged 12-15 years) or to have used in the last year (17.2% vs. 5.5%). Data on cannabis use in the last week was not included due to unreliable estimates.

Illicit drug use requiring treatment services

In South Australia, amphetamines were the most common principal drugs of concern for which treatment was sought in 2015-16, accounting for 36% of closed treatment episodes. Alcohol and cannabis were the second and third most common, accounting for 28% and 17% of closed treatment episodes, respectively. There has been an increase in amphetamines as the principal drugs of concern over the last few years (29% of episodes in 2014-15 and 27% in 2013-14), with a decrease in alcohol (32% of episodes in 2014-2015 and 36% in 2013-14)1. More detailed findings are provided in the following research publication:

[1] An important reason why South Australia has a high proportion of episodes of treatment where amphetamines are the principal drugs of concern and assessment only is the main treatment type is that SA data include assessment under the Police Drug Diversion Initiative. This program is legislated in SA, unlike other jurisdictions, and therefore results in a much higher percentage of assessment only services and a very high rate of engagement with amphetamine users. In addition, due to the Cannabis Expiation Notice legislation in South Australia, adult simple cannabis offences are not diverted to treatment and so are excluded from the data.

Overdose deaths

Information on the number and rate of drug-induced deaths in Australia among between 1997 and 2017 can be found in a recent bulletin released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. This bulletin reports on opioid, amphetamine, and cocaine-induced deaths provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) using data from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

This bulletin includes an online visualisation that allows viewers to look at trends over time by drug, opioid class, jurisdiction, sex, age group, intent, as well as reporting on drug-induced deaths where amphetamine or cocaine are contributory (capturing where cocaine or amphetamine contributed to, but another drug caused, death).

Drug trends

The Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) provides information about drug trends:

Blood-borne virus infection

The Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey (ANSPS) provides estimates of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibodies among people who inject drugs in Australia.

There has been a significant decrease over time in HCV antibody prevalence in Australia, from 50% in 2009 to 45% in 2018. HCV antibody prevalence has fluctuated in South Australia, but the overall trend has remained stable (from 41% in 2009 to 40% in 2018).

For HIV there has been a small increase in antibody prevalence over time in Australia (from 1.2% to 1.6%). In South Australia, there was a decrease from 1.2% in 2009 to 0.6% in 2018. Note that the actual numbers are small (two survey respondents tested positive for HIV in 2018 in South Australia, and 42 nationally).


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