1248.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern, 2011  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/07/2011   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All


Definition of drugs of concern
Identifying the base level units of the classification
Scope of the classification


The Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern (ASCDC) is the Australian statistical standard for classifying data relating to drugs which are considered to be of concern in Australian society. The ASCDC is essentially a classification of type of drug of concern based on the chemical structure, mechanism of action and effect on physiological activity of the drugs of concern. The classification of Type of Drug is described as the 'main classification structure' throughout the ASCDC document. The ASCDC is intended for use in the collection, classification, storage and dissemination of all statistical, administrative and service delivery data relating to drugs of concern.

There are two additional classifications, Form of Drug and Method of Drug Use.

The ASCDC assists government planners, policy analysts and social researchers by providing a consistent framework for the classification of drug-related data. The use of the standard definitions, classifications and coding procedures detailed in the ASCDC helps to ensure the comparability and compatibility of data derived from a range of different statistical, administrative and service provision systems at both the state and national level.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has produced the ASCDC in line with its commitment to provide leadership in the development and promotion of statistical data standards. The provision of nationally comparable information on licit and illicit drug activity will facilitate the planning, monitoring and evaluation of strategies for the reduction of drug-related harm. These strategies were an important element of the National Drug Strategy: Australian Integrated Framework 2004-2009 (NDSF) and the ASCDC was first developed in line with the NDSF.

According to the National Drug Strategy, a framework for a coordinated, integrated response to reducing drug-related harm in Australia (p.12 NDSF), is an important element in Australia's efforts to deal with the 'drug problem'. Consequently, one of the objectives of the NDSF (p.5) is 'to develop mechanisms for the cooperative development, transfer and use of research among interested parties.'. To monitor the effectiveness of this coordinated approach, it is necessary that standard methods be adopted in the collection and classification of the data. The ASCDC is fundamental to the achievement of this aim.

To ensure that the coverage of the ASCDC is exhaustive and the framework is suitable for the classification of data, the ASCDC was reviewed in consultation with relevant Commonwealth and State government departments, academics and other experts and organisations that are significant producers or users of data on drugs of concern.

The ASCDC is an Australian statistical standard and should be used for the production and dissemination of all Australian statistics on drugs of concern. The ABS promotes the use of the ASCDC by other government agencies, private organisations, community groups and individuals. The ABS maintains and updates the ASCDC as necessary.

To define the concept of drugs of concern which underpins the classification, there are two aspects of the concept which need to be considered:
  • the definition of 'drug', and
  • the definition of 'concern' in relation to drugs.
There are many differing perceptions of what constitutes a drug. A precise and meaningful definition of the concept is difficult and it is not the function of this document to provide an extensive definition of the term. However, a reasonable working definition, that suits the purposes of the ASCDC, is provided in the Demand Reduction: A Glossary of Terms prepared by the United Nations International Drug Control Programme. It defines the term drug, in part, as follows:
    '...In medicine, it refers to any substance with the potential to prevent or cure disease or enhance physical or mental well-being. In pharmacology, the term drug refers to any chemical agent that alters the biochemical or physiological processes of tissues or organisms...'
    This definition, while including all substances which may be regarded as drugs, also includes many substances which are not considered to be 'of concern' in our society. The notion of 'concern' is implicit in the definition of drug used in the NDSF:
      'A substance that produces a psychoactive effect. Within the context of the National Drug Strategic Framework, 'drug' is used generically to include tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs and illicit drugs. The Framework also takes account of performance and image enhancing drugs and substances such as inhalants and kava.'
      Results from the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) indicated that the concept of a 'drug problem' is generally associated with illicit substances such as heroin or cannabis. However, tobacco and alcohol account for the majority of drug-related illness in Australia and are also considered to be of concern.

      The draft Demand Reduction: A Glossary of Terms, mentioned above, further defines the term drug as:
        'A term of varied usage. In the various United Nations Conventions and in the Declaration on Drug Demand Reduction it refers to substances subject to international control...In common usage, the term often refers specifically to psychoactive drugs, and often, even more specifically, to illicit drugs. However, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and other substances in common non-medical use are also drugs in the sense of being taken primarily for their psychoactive effects...'
        From the above, it can be seen that, in its broadest sense, the term 'drug' relates to chemical substances that alter physiological processes. However, because all drugs do not have the same potential for inappropriate use, dependence or harm, drugs of concern in the ASCDC are defined as:
          'Any chemical substances for which policies and programs aimed at reducing drug-related harm or reducing the availability of drugs have been developed, or which have otherwise been identified by key stakeholders in the health, welfare, and crime and justice sectors to be of current concern in the Australian context.'
          This ASCDC definition naturally includes all drugs on which there are legal restrictions such as heroin and cannabis, but also includes legally obtainable drugs for which demand and harm reduction strategies are in place, such as alcohol and tobacco.

          In a few instances, the ASCDC identifies drugs for which formal harm minimisation strategies are not currently in place, but which are of concern because they may, for instance, result in deleterious health outcomes if used inappropriately. Such drugs are identified because they may enhance the usefulness of the classification, particularly in the health field.

          Generally, the ASCDC is designed to classify chemical substances which are of concern because they alter physiological processes to produce a psychoactive effect, to enhance performance or image, or to act as a detoxifying agent or antidote. Detoxifying agents and antidotes have been included in the ASCDC upon the request of the health sector as they are used in programs related to the reduction of drug-related harm. These drugs are of interest not only for analysis and evaluation in terms of their effectiveness in treatment programs but also because some are potentially addictive or could be used in a harmful manner.

          The main classification structure of the ASCDC only identifies drugs which are regarded as being of concern on the above basis. However, as all drugs have the potential to be of concern in certain situations or contexts, the classification has been developed so that it can incorporate, at a future date, any drug that becomes recognised as a drug of concern (see Scope of the Classification, below).


          The ASCDC is designed so that it can include all drugs. However, in line with the purposes of the classification, and consistent with the concept of 'drugs of concern' detailed above, the base level units of the ASCDC main structure comprise:
          • selected substances identified in Schedule 8 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons, No. 13, including 'Poisons to which the restrictions recommended for drugs of dependence by the 1980 Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs should apply'. For example, 3903 Cocaine;
          • selected substances identified in Schedule 9 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons, No. 13, covering 'Poisons which are drugs of abuse, the manufacture, possession, sale or use of which should be prohibited by law except for amounts which may be necessary for medical or scientific research conducted with the approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities.' For example, 1202 Heroin;
          • selected narcotic substances identified in Schedule VI of the Customs Act 1901. For example, 3103 Methamphetamine;
          • selected therapeutic substances which have been identified as being subject to inappropriate use. For example, 2403 Diazepam;
          • selected therapeutic substances which are used in programs intended to reduce drug-related harm or assist with detoxification. For example, 9202 Naltrexone;
          • selected substances that are generally available but which have been identified as subject to inappropriate use. For example, 2101 Ethanol;
          • selected substances and classes of substances prohibited by the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission. For example, 4107 Nandrolone;
          • selected groups of chemically similar substances which do not support individual identification, aggregated to form useful categories as single base level units. For example, 1302 Fentanyl analogues; and
          • residual (not elsewhere classified (nec)) categories of substances that are within the scope of the classification but do not support separate identification in the classification structure (see Reserved Codes for Residual Categories). For example, 1199 Organic Opiate Analgesics, nec.

          If drugs or substances not currently covered by the above principles of identification are identified in the future as being of concern, they will be included in the most appropriate broad or narrow group residual category as an interim measure. They will be more appropriately classified when the next review of the classification is undertaken.


          The ASCDC is designed to collect, classify and disseminate data on drugs of concern. Because most drugs have the potential to be considered of concern in certain circumstances or contexts, the scope of the classification is all drugs. However, only those drugs noted by key stakeholders in the health, welfare, and crime and justice sectors to be of current concern in the Australian context of harm minimisation are identified in the main classification structure. This includes all drugs of concern which may be identified using the criteria listed above (see Identifying the Base Level Units of the Classification, above).

          It should also be noted that the main classification structure of the ASCDC does not distinguish between drugs of concern on the basis of their legality. Further, it is not a suitable vehicle for the classification of the different chemical or physical forms in which a drug may be available, and should not be used to determine the different methods of drug use. These are correlative variables for which the 'Form of Drug' and 'Method of Drug Use' classifications have been developed.

          Back to top of the page