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1. What is the size of the problem
In the 15-34 year age group, the rate of drug-caused deaths increases to one in three deaths.
Age group differences are also important to note:
Alcohol use is a major factor in marital disharmony, violent crime, chronic invalidity and road accidents. It is the principal drug problem for a majority of clients of drug and alcohol treatment agencies throughout Australia (refer Appendix 2).
Although there is no firm epidemiological
evidence linking the use of other drugs as a causative factor in road accidents there is
much anecdotal evidence. The risk of harm is high when some drugs, either illicit or
prescribed, eg cannabis or diazepam, are combined with alcohol.
Recent figures from the 1991 National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) Household Survey indicate that tobacco was used in the past year by 31% of males and 25% of females aged 14 and over. Similar proportions of high school students also report using tobacco. Although levels of smoking among teenagers have fallen in recent years, the number of female teenagers who smoke still exceeds that of males. In 1991, 21% of boys and 35% of girls between 14-19 years reported smoking in the past year. (Appendix 3 provides information on use of various drugs by persons aged 14-19 years.)
There has been a greater decline of smoking among males than females in the past 15 years. The proportion of female smoking increased from 26% in 1945 to 31% in 1976-80 but has since fallen to 27% in 1989. The proportion of males smoking has fallen since 1945 (when it was 72%) to 30% in 1989. This represents no statistical difference between male and female smoking rates for the first time.
A 1989 survey highlighted increasing concern about heavy drinking among young people 38% of 16 year olds and 40% of 17 year olds consumed five or more drinks on their last drinking occasion. It was also reported that in the 12-16 year age group, 22% of boys and 18% of girls reported weekly use of alcohol.
There is no reliable evidence to demonstrate authoritatively patterns or trends in the use of pharmaceutical products such as sedatives, minor tranquillisers and analgesics. Restrictions on the prescription of barbiturates over the past decade have produced a fall in their use, and deaths from overdosage have decreased by 75%.
The most commonly used prescribed drugs are cardiovascular system drugs (19%) followed by psychotropic drugs (10%). There is some concern about the use of psychotropic drugs because of their ability to alter a person's mood, behaviour or perception.
Minor tranquillisers, particularly benzodiazepines, are the most commonly used psychotropic drugs in the Australian community. The overuse of this drug, particularly by women and the elderly, has been an area of concern for some time.
Benzodiazepines are commonly taken in overdosage both by accident and with suicidal intent. Approximately 1% of drug-related deaths are due to the misuse of prescribed and unprescribed pharmaceuticals.
Apart from the use of cannabis, it seems that the level of use of illegal drugs in Australia remains very low. This use has remained at approximately the same level for the past ten years. Appendix 4 provides a breakdown of persons using illicit drugs in the past year.
The use of amphetamines and cocaine in general remains low in the Australian population. (Appendix 5 provides information on the proportion of the population who have ever tried various illicit drugs.) However, recent evidence suggests that the number of persons trying amphetamines is increasing, particularly among males aged 25-39 (from 12% in 1988 to 19% in 1991) and among females aged 14-24 (4% in 1988 to 11% in 1991).
Most deaths involving illegal drugs are caused by overdosage or an impure drug. Some of these deaths are suicides. Many injecting drug users are infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C and an increasing number are infected with HIV/AIDS. Intravenous use of amphetamines and cocaine is still causing little morbidity, but an increasing number are presenting for treatment centres. Needle-sharing and unsafe sexual practices continue to be a significant problem.
Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the Australian population, with approximately one in three persons aged 14 and over having tried this drug. This represents a slight increase in use since 1988.
It is possible that cannabis use may precipitate psychotic episodes in those who are predisposed or have a history of psychosis. Cannabis impairs psychomotor function but epidemiological evidence to link cannabis with road accidents is still lacking.
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DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Alcohol
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
|Drug Information Articles|
Taking a drug test:
How To Pass A Drug Test
Beat Drug Test
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Drug Screening Tests
Drug Addiction Treatment