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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Oct 2010  
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Contents >> Adult health >> Health risk factors: illicit substance use


ADULT HEALTH: ILLICIT SUBSTANCE USE
This article is part of a comprehensive series released as The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples



KEY MESSAGES

One in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 15 years and over (20%) had used illicit substances in the last 12 months and 39% had tried drugs at some point in their lifetime. Marijuana and amphetamines were the most common types of drugs used.

The term 'illicit substance use' refers to substances that are either illegal to possess (e.g. heroin) or legally available but used inappropriately (e.g. misuse of prescription medication). Substance use is associated with illness and disease, accident and injury, self-harm, violence and crime, and family and social disruption (Endnote 1).

This topic presents results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) which provides the most recent data on illicit substance use. In previous ABS collections, substance use data for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has been limited to those living in non-remote areas. The 2008 NATSISS provides data on substance use for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over (Endnote 2).

The 2008 NATSISS shows that one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over (20%) reported having recently used an illicit substance (i.e. in the 12 months prior to interview) and 39% reported having tried at least one illicit substance in their lifetime. Between 2002 and 2008, there was no significant change in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in non-remote areas who had recently used illicit drugs (24% in 2002; 22% in 2008).

Men were more likely than women to have used substances in the last 12 months (25% compared with 16%). Substance use was most common among young people, with 25% of those aged 15–34 years having recently used illicit drugs compared with 15% of those aged 35 years and over. Overall, rates of substance use were higher among people living in non-remote than remote areas (22% compared with 16%).

Marijuana was the most commonly reported illicit drug used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2008. One third (32%) reported having tried marijuana and 16% had used it in the last 12 months. Amphetamines or speed and pain-killers/analgesics (for non-medical purposes) were the next most frequently reported substances used. The prevalence of both marijuana and amphetamine use was twice as high for men than for women.

6.1 TYPE OF SUBSTANCES USED, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008
Graph: Illicit substance use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008
(a) For non-medical purposes.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
These estimates are also available for download in the Adult Health datacube.


Along with alcohol, substance use is one of the largest contributors to the burden of disease and injury among Australia's young people (Endnote 3). In 2008, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–34 years who had recently used illicit substances were less likely than those who had not used substances to report excellent/very good health (47% compared with 57%) and were more likely to report fair/poor health (17% compared with 10%). They were also more likely to suffer from high/very high levels of psychological distress (38% compared with 28%). Moreover, rates of tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption were twice as high among young people who had recently used substances — 69% were current daily smokers (compared with 36% of those who had not used substances) and 61% had engaged in binge drinking in the last 2 weeks (compared with 33% of non-drug users).

Illicit drug consumption also plays a significant role in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's involvement in the criminal justice system (Endnote 1). In 2008, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over who had used substances in the last 12 months were twice as likely to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the previous year (40% compared with 19%) and were three times as likely to have been arrested (32% compared with 10%) or incarcerated (7% compared with 2%) in the last five years.

Given that information on substance use is not collected in the National Health Survey or the General Social Survey, non-Indigenous comparisons from ABS collections are unavailable. However the results from AIHW's 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were almost twice as likely as other Australians to be recent users of illicit substances (Endnote 4).

ENDNOTES

1. SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the review of Government Service Provision) 2009, 'Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009', Productivity Commission, Canberra <www.pc.gov.au>.

2. The substance use questions in the 2008 NATSISS were a repeat of those used on the 2002 NATSISS and had a response rate of over 90%. In non-community areas a voluntary self-enumerated form was used to collect this information whereas in community areas, respondents were required to respond verbally to questions asked by an interviewer.

3. Begg, S., Vos, T., Barker, B., Stevenson, T., Stanley, L. and Lopez, A. 2007, 'The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia, 2003', cat. no. PHE 82, AIHW, Canberra, <www.aihw.gov.au>.

4. AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2008, 'Australia’s Health 2008', cat. no. AUS 99, AIHW, Canberra, <www.aihw.gov.au>.

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