General News Research — 25 November 2014

More than two in five Australians either smoke daily, drink alcohol in ways that place them at risk, or have used an illicit drug in the last year, a survey has found, Dan Harrison reports.

Australians in remote areas are twice as likely to use methamphetamines, smoke daily or engage in risky drinking as those in cities, according to figures to be released on Tuesday.

The findings, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, are based on the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which collected data from 24,000 people in the second half of 2013.

It found more than two in five Australians either smoked daily, drank alcohol in ways that placed them at risk of harm, or used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

Overall levels of meth use were stable between 2010, when the survey was last conducted, and 2013, but there was a change in the most popular form used, with crystal meth or ice replacing powder as the preferred form of the drug.summerfield-336672_1280

Among recent meth users, ice use increased from 22 per cent to 50 per cent.

There was also a trend to more frequent use, with 15.5 per cent of recent users using it daily of weekly, compared to 9.3 per cent in 2010.

People who mainly used ice were far more likely to use it on a regular basis than those who used meth in other forms. A quarter of ice users used the drug at least weekly, compared to 2.2 per cent of those who mainly used powder.

While the proportion of people who reported being offered cocaine rose from 4.4 per cent in 2010 to 5.2 per cent in 2013, the proportion of people who actually took the drug was unchanged at 2.1 per cent.

There was a significant rise in misuse of pharmaceuticals, with 900,000 people reporting using a pharmaceutical drug for non-medical purposes in the previous 12 months. Of these, almost 3 in 10 used weekly or more often.

The increase was mainly due to an increase in the misuse of these drugs by men in their 30s and women in their 40s. Painkillers were the most commonly misused pharmaceuticals.

Residents of NSW were more likely to use cocaine and less likely to use meth than the people in other states and territories. Victorians were less likely to drink at risky levels and use cannabis than people in other jurisdictions.

People living in areas with the lowest socioeconomic status were three times as likely to smoke than people with the  highest socioeconomic status.

People with the highest socioeconomic status were more likely to drink at risky levels and use ecstasy and cocaine than people of lower socioeconomic status.

The proportion of pregnant women abstaining from alcohol rose from 49 per cent in 2010 to 53 per cent in 2013.

But more than half of pregnant women consumed alcohol before they knew they were pregnant, and one in four continued to drink even once they knew they were pregnant.

Almost a third of indigenous Australians smoked daily, which was about 2.5 times the proportion of non-indigenous Australians who did so. Cannabis use among indigenous Australians was about twice as common as among non-indigenous Australians.

While daily smoking rates significantly declined in major cities between 2010 and 2013, they did not change in rural and remote areas.

This article first appeared on ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on 25 November 2014.


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