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Note: The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016 key findings report (1 June 2017) may show preliminary figures different to those used in this section.

Over one-quarter

(27.3%) of Australians aged 20–29 had illicitly used drugs in the last 12 months, in 2013. For all Australians aged 14 or older, this was 15% or about 3 million.

The top 4 drugs

most likely used in 2013 were cannabis, ecstasy, meth/amphetamines and cocaine.

Pharmaceutical misuse

is on the rise—between 2010 and 2013 the proportion of people aged 14 or older who had misused pharmaceuticals in the last 12 months increased, from 4.2% to 4.7%.


of people aged 14 or older had been a victim of an illicit drug-related incident in the previous 12 months in 2013.


(69%) of people would support a change to the legislation permitting the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Sparkline shows increase from 11% in 2011-12 to 23% in 2015-16.

Treatment for amphetamines

is becoming more common—the proportion of episodes provided by specialist alcohol and other drug treatment services primarily for amphetamines increased from 11% in 2011–12 to 23% in 2015–16.

Bar chart compares NSW (13.9), Vic (14), Qld (15.2), WA (16.6), SA (15.4), Tas (14.7), ACT (14.9), NT (21.4), Aust. (14.7)

Recent use lowest

in New South Wales and Victoria in 2013 (around 14% had used any illicit drug in the last 12 months).

About illicit use of drugs

Illicit use of drugs causes death and disability and is a risk factor for many diseases. Effects of illicit drug use can be severe, for example leading to poisoning, heart damage, mental illness, self-harm, suicide and death. Illicit drug use is also associated with risks to users' family and friends and to the community. It contributes to social and family disruptions, violence, and crime and community safety issues [3].

Drug use was responsible for 1.8% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2011 (including the impact of injecting drug use, and cocaine, opioid, amphetamine and cannabis dependence) [1]. There has been an increase in the burden attributable to drug use, with drug use moving from being the 10th top ranking risk factor for disease and injury in Australia in 2003 to the 9th in 2011.

Illicit drug use costs the Australian economy an estimated $8.2 billion annually through crime, productivity losses and health care costs [2].

Australian governments have strategies in place to minimise drug-related harm, including law enforcement, drug programs and treatment services and media and education campaigns. In 2009–10, the Drug Policy Modelling Program estimated Australian government spending on illicit drug programs to be around 1.7 billion, with around 64% spent on law enforcement, 22% on treatment, 9.7% on prevention and 2.2% on harm reduction [6].

Illicit drug data sources


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 3. Cat. no. BOD 4. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Collins DJ & Lapsley HM 2008. The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004–05. National Drug Strategy Monograph Series no. 66. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing.
  3. Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) 2011. The National Drug Strategy 2010–2015. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  4. National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) 2012. Illicit drug use in rural Australia. Fact sheet 33, June 2012. Canberra. Viewed 5 June 2014.
  5. Ritter A, McLeod R, & Shanahan M 2013. Monograph no. 24: Government drug policy expenditure in Australia—2009/10. DPMP Monograph Series. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales.