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18 Aug. 2021

Young Australians, illicit drug use and harm reduction Report

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation have released a report on minimising the harm of illicit drugs for young Australians. Please see the executive summary below and read the entire report here.

Why we did this research

Young adults aged 18-25 are the most likely to have used illicit drugs in the past 12 months of any age group in Australia. We know that some subgroups of young adults are more likely to use drugs in ways that put them at high risk of harm. The aims of this research were two-fold:

• We wanted to understand the extent, settings, patterns of use and commonly used drug types by young adults in Australia and identify high-risk subgroups and behaviours most likely to benefit from harm reduction efforts.
• We wanted to know what works in terms of effective harm reduction messaging for young adults.

How we did the research

Relevant data sources were reviewed to better understand illicit drug use patterns in Australian young adults, including the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) and the 2019 Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS).

A narrative review of evidence for harm reduction messaging for young adults who are already using illicit drugs (rather than preventing uptake) was also undertaken to determine the most effective types of messaging interventions and delivery modes for this age-group.

What we found

Illicit drug use

• Young adults, aged 18-24 years, are most likely to have used illicit drugs in the past 12 months, compared to any other age group.
• The most commonly used illicit drugs, for those who had used drugs in the past 12 months, were cannabis (25%), cocaine (11%) and ecstasy (11%).
• There were significant increases in the use of cocaine (up by 6%), ecstasy (up by 3%), and ketamine (up by 3%) by young adults between 2016-19.
• Compared to other countries, a significantly higher proportion of Australian young adults use cocaine and ecstasy. Australian young adults also consume more ecstasy pills per session than their international peers.
• Polydrug use is common among those who use illicit drugs. EDRS data show 95% of respondents used more than one drug (including alcohol) when they last used a stimulant and 76% combined stimulants and depressants.
• The highest rates of drug-related hospitalisations across all age groups were in those aged 20-29 years.
• NSW, VIC, NT, and ACT had the highest proportions of recent drug use among 18-24-year-olds, with all four regions recording increases in drug use between 2016-19.
• Drug-induced deaths were least common in young adults compared to other age groups – despite 18-25-year-olds having the highest rates of recent drug use.
• Opioids were the leading cause of drug-related deaths in 15-24-year-olds.
• Since 2013, there has been a slight increase in the number of deaths of 15-24-year-olds from anti-epileptic drugs, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and anti-Parkinson drugs. These drugs are the second highest cause of drug-related deaths in this age-group.