Monday, April 28, 2008

Australian drug use trends

The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey has just been released (here). This is by far the most useful and accurate study of drug use trends in Australia.

Tobacco consumption continues to fall – less than 1 in 5 Australians smoked over the past 12 months. There is a very significant reduction in daily alcohol consumption – from 8.9% in 2004 to 8.1%. The most common illicit drug in Australia is cannabis – 9.1% of those aged 14 years and over had used cannabis during the last 12 months with strong continued decline in use among youth – use from 2004 to 2007 dropped from 11.3% to 9.1%. There is a significant* reduction in use of amphetamines/ice from 3.2% to 2.3% over this same period.

Heroin use remains very low at 0.2% in 2007 compared to 0.8% in 1998. The big supply reductions that occurred during the heroin drought of 2000 as a response to increase police interdictions seem to have permanently and significantly reduced heroin demands.

These are very positive signs which show that the campaigns against dangerous licit and illicit drugs do work. The only negative features are that ecstasy use remains high at around 3.4% of the population and cocaine use has increased significantly* since 2004 from 1% of the Australian population to around 1.6%.

An excellent report that isn’t too long. It is good reading if you wish to be informed about drug issues rather than adopting partisan views in the media and the drug treatment industry.

*Significance here means statistical significance at a 95% confidence level.

11 comments:

Eric said...

I had a quick look at some of the numbers. It looks like it's the older generations that are drinking the most, and they are dying off and being replaced by non-drinking youth (despite what we hear about some youth).

Spiros said...

"The big supply reductions that occurred during the heroin drought of 2000 as a response to increase police interdictions seem to have permanently and significantly reduced heroin demands."

Reduced heroin demands? Just because you can't get the stuff doesn't mean that demand isn't there.

Or are you saying that the supply shortage has pushed up prices and so reduced demands? This, I would doubt. If you've got a pharmacological dependency on heroin, you're not going say, "oh well, the price has gone up, it's no longer value for money, I think I'll buy less".

hc said...

Spiros, Prices have fallen quite a bit but levels of use have not recovered. The demand for heroin has shifted left.

Spiros said...

Substituting to cocaine?

conrad said...

Just to be depressing, I think you need some evidence for your claim that demand has been permanently reduced by spike-like reductions in the supply of heroin. Any evidence for this over the more obvious reduction in unemployment?

My bet is that if we go back up to the unemployment levels of the 90s for a while (quite possible given the current climate), and wait a few years as those people unemployed for longer periods get bored, will see consumption increase again

derrida derider said...

Yep, Harry, you're indulging in post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. Anyway the heroin drought was world wide and had more to do with the Taliban's effective suppression of the Afghan opium crop than with the War on Some Drugs.

Even if you were right and the drought did permanently shift the demand curve for heroin, you still have not shown that prohibition resulting in more harm reduction than alternative approaches. The right counterfactual may be that we would have a few more heroin addicts but they are much healthier, richer and more law abiding than those we now have. And we'd also have fewer problems with meth (a genuinely vicious drug) - that, not cocaine, was the main substitute in Australia.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that prescription drug use was the dominant growth area of harmful drug use, apart from alcohol and tobacco. Do you have a view on this, HC?

Kymbos.

Anonymous said...

There's no excuse for the current nanny-state treatment of the vast majority of recreational drug users. Further, a significant portion of the reason that recreational drugs are often abused and cause serious health issues is the lack of regulation over the industry, and lack of easily available information on what constitutes responsible usage of, say, cannabis, or ecstasy. Modern liberal democratic government will have truly shown that they have grown-up once the absurd attitude towards recreational drugs is finally dropped.
And I say this as someone who really has zero interest in trying them again.

Anonymous said...

"Heroin use remains very low at 0.2% in 2007 compared to 0.8% in 1998....and cocaine use has increased significantly* since 2004 from 1% of the Australian population to around 1.6%."

Ummm... a 0.6% decrease in heroin use, 0.6 increase in cocaine use! I think Spiros is right when he says users are substituting cocaine for heroin (probably because of the heroin drought). I also have seen evidence of this with people I know/work with. Shame taxes are being spent on govt strategies that produce worse health outcomes for Australians(including major financial stress). Injecting cocaine is worse than heroin because the effects last for only a short time meaning you have to inject very frequently. Not to mention the cost! Bring on prescription heroin etc so users can have a life!!

Anonymous said...

The reduction in heroin demand is a multi dimensional problem not centered around any one event as the reason for the reduction in heroin use in Australia scince 2000. It most certainly is not the success of law enforcement in restricting it's availability. Asian drug producers seem to be producing ATS (amphetamine type stimulants) that can easily be made from industrial chemicals. An example P2P, a precursor for amphatamine and ecstacy, is made from a reaction between benzine, oxygen and a few other industrial chemicals. Burma and Afganistan are the major producers of heroin. Burma seems to have focused on ATS and no longer produces as much heroin. Thanks to the war on terror, Afgani heroin will soon be available worldwide again. It is also evident a number a heroin addicts have been Dr shopping to get drugs such as oxycontin. Panadeine is also reduced down to codine and users inject this mixture of codine and paracetamol. Efforts such as pseudowatch and rescheduling will prevent local production to some extent. P2P is to easily produced, and pseudoephedrine can be made via yeast fermentation. Small operators will be destroyed (yay) but imported high potency drugs will always be available. I'm a nurse so I have to deal with the infected IV use site, Hep B & C, users comming down etc on a daily basis. Prohibition is not the answer, their has to be a better way.

Anonymous said...

"Heroin use remains very low at 0.2% in 2007 compared to 0.8% in 1998. The big supply reductions that occurred during the heroin drought of 2000 as a response to increase police interdictions seem to have permanently and significantly reduced heroin demands."

The Iron Law of Prohibition is a term which states that "the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes." This is based on the premise that when drugs or alcohol are prohibited, they will be produced only in black markets in their most concentrated and powerful forms. If all alcohol beverages are prohibited, a bootlegger will be more profitable if he smuggles highly distilled liquors than if he smuggles the same volume of small beer. In addition, the black-market goods are more likely to be adulterated with unknown or dangerous substances. The government cannot regulate and inspect the production process, and harmed consumers have no recourse in law.

For example, prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market. During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. The Iron Law of Prohibition: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.

Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.

Take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering billions on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. Drugs are a tragedy for addicts, but criminalising their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.