Drug Abuse in the Global Village
Drug Abuse in Asia



Extent of Drug Abuse

Cannabis is the most prevalent drug abused in Australia. Annual abuse is about 13 per cent in the adult population according to a 1991 survey. Abuse is more prevalent among men (17 per cent), especially young men aged 14-24, compared to 9 per cent among women and 20 per cent among young women 14-24 years of age. Amphetamines are the next most preva­lent drug abused in Australia. Annual abuse is estimated at 3 per cent according to a 1991 sur­vey. It is higher among men (4 per cent), especially among young men (11 per cent for the 14-24 age group) compared to women (2 per cent) and young women 14-24 years of age (6 per cent). Hallucinogens are nearly as prevalent as amphetamines in Australia. Annual abuse is estimated at 2 per cent according to a 1991 survey. Annual abuse is more prevalent among men (3 per cent) and young men (9 per cent for the 14-24 age group), compared to 1 per cent among women and 3 per cent among young women 14-24 years of age (table 1). Other drugs of concern are barbiturates (annual prevalence 2 per cent), cocaine and crack (1 per cent), inhalants (1 per cent), heroin (1 per cent), ecstasy/designer drugs (1 per cent) and injected illicit drugs (1 per cent) (see table 1) (NCADA 1991).

Abuser Characteristics

In general, abusers tend to be males, 14 to 35 years of age, although abuse is more pronounced among those aged 14 to 24. As indicated above, the tendency to characterize the abuser as a young male is some­what misleading, because abuse among Australian women in general, especially young women 14 to 24 years old, is considerable (Department of Health 1992).

Table 1            Proportion of population who have used illicit drugs in the past year, type of drug, age, sex, 1991.
(Per cent)
                                               Males (years)                                    Females (years)

                            14-24 25-39   40+ Total          14-24 25-39   40+ Total          Total
Marijuana                   38      25       3     17               20      13       2       9               13
Amphetamines            11       5       -      4                 6       1       -       2                3
Barbiturates                 3       3       1      2                2       1       2       2                2
Cocaine/crack             3       2     (a)      1                1       -       1       1                1
Hallucinogens              9       3     (a)      3                3       -       -       1                2
Heroin                       (a)       2     (a)       -                2     (a)       -       1                1
Inhalants                      5       1     (a)      1                2     (a)       1       1                1
Ecstasy/designer          4       2       1      2                2       -       -       1                1
Injected illicit drugs      2       1       -      1                1     (a)     (a)       -                1

Total illicit drugs(b) 41      25       4     19               24      14       4      11               15
(a)        Suppressed due to high sampling error.
(b)       Any of the drugs listed above.
Source:  NCADA National Household Survey 1991.

Regional Variations

Australia is a Federation of six States and two Territories. Some data is available at the Federal level but some is available only at the State or Territory level. This report is based on national data. In general, heroin and cocaine abusers are more likely to reside in urban centres. Inhalants abusers tend to be non-urban aboriginals and some youth in urban centres (Department of Health 1992).


Changes in the proportion of the Australian population who have ever tried selected illicit drugs are presented in table 2. Cannabis abuse increased from 28 per cent in 1985 to 32 per cent in 1991 while barbiturates abuse decreased from (9 per cent to 5 per cent respectively). Small declines were noted in the abuse of amphetamines, cocaine and crack and hallucinogens. Small increases are reported in the abuse of heroin, ecstasy and designer drugs and injected drugs. No change in the abuse of inhalant was reported (see table 2) (NCADA 1985, 1988, 1991).

Table 2            Proportion of the population who have ever tried illicit drugs, drug type, 1985, 1988 and 1991.

Survey year                    1985                    1988                     1991
Marijuana                            28                        28                         32
Amphetamines                       9                          6                           8
Barbiturates                           9                          6                           5
Cocaine/crack(a)                   4                          3                           3
Hallucinogens                         8                          7                           7
Heroin                                   1                          1                           2
Inhalants                                3                          2                           3
Ecstasy/designer drugs          na                          1                           2
Self injected (any illicit)         na                          1                           2
(a)        Crack not mentioned in 1985 survey.
Note:  1985 data adjusted to make comparable with later years.
Source:   NCADA National Household Surveys 1985, 1988, 1991.

Mode of intake

A Recent survey of drug abuse in Australia, conducted in 1991, indicate that in addition to cannabis that is smoked, heroin- injected and cocaine- sniffed, there is a special concern relating to the abuse of amphetamines (mostly oral intake but some injection) and hallucinogens (Department of Health 1992).

            Further, there seem to be a solid pattern of abuse of inhalants (annual abuse 1 per cent), ecstasy/designer drugs (1 per cent) and injected illicit drugs (1 per cent) (table 1). The abuse of these drugs tends to be associated with most severe consequences such as brain damage for inhalers, higher death rates due to abuse of designer drugs and spread of HIV and Hepati­tis due to unsafe injection practices (Department of Health 1992).



Drug abuse represent a societal cost in the form of prevention and treatment servic­es, loss of productivity due to sickness or death, loss of property due to crime, law en­forcement and accidents. Australia estimates that the overall costs related to licit and illicit drug abuse exceeds 14 billion dollars (or 4.6 of GDP) per year; one and a half billion dollars is attributed to illicit drug abuse. These costs "exceeded the increase in revenues from extra taxes by $623 million" (Collins, D. J. et al. 1991).

            It is estimated that about 20 per cent of all annual deaths in Australia are attributed to drug (any drug) abuse, that is 25,524 cases in 1990. About three per cent (or 765) are due to illicit drug abuse, including two per cent (or 457) to opiates (mainly heroin), compared to 71 per cent attributed to tobacco and 26 per cent to alcohol (Department of Health 1992; Armstrong, B. K. et al. 1988).

            In general, drug caused deaths are more prevalent among males and the young; among the 15 to 34 age group: about one death in three is drug related. It is estimated that opiates account for 23 per cent of drug related deaths among this group (Department of Health 1992; Armstrong, B. K. et al. 1988).

            It is difficult to measure the contribution of drug abuse to illnesses. Australia is developing a measure based on the estimated number of admissions to hospitals "due to drug caused conditions" (Department of Health 1992).

            The number of known AIDS deaths amongst injecting drug abusers cumulative to 31 December 1991 was 70, or almost 4 per cent of the 1,952 AIDS deaths recorded. The prevalence of AIDS cases reported amongst injecting drug abusers was almost 5 per cent (Department of Health 1992).



Treaty adherence

Australia is party to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.

Structure of National Drug Control Organs


The central government unit responsible for liaison and coordination of national drug control policy is the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, a part of the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services.

Measures taken with respect to Drug Control


Recently enacted laws and regulations:
The Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act was passed by the Federal Parliament in 1990. Its objective is to enable Australia to meet certain obligation under the 1988 Convention as part of preparations for ratification and seeks to do this by extending Australia's extraterritorial jurisdiction in accordance with article 4 of the Convention. It also fills a gap in law relating to the illicit use of drugs on aircraft.
No new laws and regulations relating to drug control were reported being enacted in 1991.

Licensing system for manufacture, trade and distribution:
Domestic manufacture, trade in and distribution of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are subject to a government-controlled system of licensing. Australia is a manufacturer of several narcotic drugs: In 1991, anileridine, codeine, concentrate of poppy straw, dihydrocodeine, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, pethidine, pholcodine, thebaine and tilidine were manufactured. The main manufacturers are located in Tasmania and Victoria. There are no establishments or premises in which the lawful manufacture of basic psychotropic substance takes place.

Control system:
(i) Prescription requirement: Prescription is a requirement for supply and dispensation of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. (ii) Warnings on packages: The law requires warnings on packages or accompanying leaflet information to safeguards the users of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. (iii) Control of non-treaty substances, if any: None reported.

Social Measures


Penal Sanctions related to social measures: In the province of Victoria, some courts have applied sanctions which involved probation or good behaviour bonds with conditions that offenders received treatment for drug problems as an alternative to conviction. This is not mandatory but a sentencing option.  Each case is judged on its merits by the presiding magistrate or judge. The option is usually only used in matters involving drugs for personal use and not for trafficking matters.

Other social measures: There are needle and syringe exchange programmes in South Australia and Victoria. In 1991, a drug education programme (DARE) has been introduced into primary schools in the metropolitan area as a pilot study in South Australia.



National Strategy

Australia expressed strong support to UNDCP efforts to strengthen international cooperative efforts and encouraged it to "influence the broader direction of policy, both inside and outside the UN system". It further, proposed to encourage partnerships in order to implement the ratification and implementation of the conventions (Australia 1992).

            In general, NCADA adopted a comprehensive strategy which combine prevention activities, early identification, early intervention and a mix of treatment approaches deliv­ered by government and non-government agencies (Australia 1993).

            Cooperation between law enforcement agencies such as the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence (ABCI), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the National Crime Authority (NCA), and the Australian Customs Service (ACS) aim to exchange information which targets drug offenders and in particular major traffickers (Department of Health 1992).



Primary Prevention

In the beginning, in 1985, the focus of the Australian National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) was on treatment. In 1989, Austra­lia shifted its emphasis to prevention. The new approach uses education and social market­ing programs to change norms held by Australians in relation to drug abuse in order to modify their behaviours in the long term. Ongoing evaluations of NCADA appear to be encouraging, indicating that global strategies and policies are effective in reducing drug abuse (Department of Health 1992).

            NCADA supported a wide variety of prevention programmes. During 1988-89, there were 69 projects operated in 344 centres, 5,300 schools, 2,116 community groups and 80 government departments. The activities which included media campaigns, local drug information centres, a mobile resources centre, educational resources, community based programmes and educational programmes targeted at teachers, parents, students at different levels, medical practitioners, women, aborigines and other special cultural groups among others (Department of Health 1992).

Treatment and Rehabilitation

In the first five year cycle of the Australian National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA), about $124 million were spent to expand or develop new residential and non-residential treatment services, training and community based projects. Methadone were expanded from 2,203 programmes in 1985 to 9,694 in 1991, in order to reduce illegal drug abuse among patients; to reduce death and other cost consequences associated with opioid abuse (Department of Health 1992).

            Other drug treatment services were expanded considerably since 1985. In 1990, a rare, one day national survey of clients of drug treatment services was conducted in order to gain an insight as to the typical workload and clients characteristics. The findings indi­cate that unemployed males in their mid-thirties who have alcohol problems were most common. Ninety per cent of the clients were drug abusers while ten per cent were significant others related to abusers. Eighty three per cent were Australian born including 12 per cent Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders; about 16 per cent were not born in Australia but half of these were of English speaking countries. The principal drug problems listed in table 3 are alcohol (55 per cent), opiates (27 per cent), tobacco 8 per cent and opiates/multiple drug (7 per cent) (De­partment of Health 1992).

Table 3            Principal drug problems (a) by client status
                                    Drug problems nominated by agencies (a)
                                            Primary clients                     Secondary clients
Drug                           Number      Per cent                Number       Per cent

Alcohol                           3,080            55.2                       431            73.5
Opiates                           1,501            26.9                        46             7.8
Tobacco                            441             7.9                           1             0.2
Opiate/Multiple drug          378             6.8                        10             1.7
Cannabis                           228             4.1                        23             3.9
Amphetamines                   217             3.9                           5             0.9
Benzodiazepines                204             3.7                           7             1.2
Multiple drug
  (excluding opiates)           136             2.4                        14             2.4
Tranquilizers                       60             1.1                           3             0.5
Barbiturates                         40             0.7                           1             0.2
Solvents                               31             0.6                        35             6.0
Methylated spirits                 27             0.5                           0             0.0
Cocaine                               25             0.4                           1             0.2
Hallucinogens                       16             0.3                           2             0.3
Other drug                           14             0.3                           3             0.5

(a)        Agencies sometimes nominated more than one principal drug problem for each client.
Sources: Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, Clients of Treatment Service Agencies, March 1990 Census Findings.



Arrests, Convictions and types of Offences

Data released by the ABCI and presented in table 4 indi­cates that most arrests involving illicit drugs are heavily concentrated on cannabis (29,209 in 1991), followed at a distance by amphetamines (3,466), heroin (2,276) and cocaine (345). These figures should not be considered as measures of the extent of abuse but rather as rough indicators of law enforcement practices adopted by Australian authorities to curb drug related crimes (Department of Health, 1992).

            A National Prison Census, conducted by the Institute of Criminology in 1991, used the "most serious offence" committed by prisoners to give some indication as to type of drug related offences. Offences against property (32 per cent) and against the person (31 per cent) led the way, followed by robbery and extortion (11 per cent), offences against good order (7 per cent), road traffic violations (7 per cent), trafficking and manufacturing (6 per cent) and others (about 5 per cent) (Department of Health 1992).

Table 4            Number of arrests involving illicit drugs, Australia, 1989 to 1991

                              1989                    1990                     1991

Cannabis             32,598                 23,195                  29,209
Amphetamines      3,172                  2,079                   3,466
Heroin                  3,488                  2,312                   2,276
Cocaine                   383                      244                       345

Total                  39,641                 27,830                  35,296
Source:  Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence.


Data released by AFP indicates that cannabis and cannabis oil seizures (2,402 in 1991) exceed by far all other drug seizures: heroin (269), cocaine (86), amphetamines (74) and LSD (31). The quantities seized are roughly of the same order. Seizure trends data, although subject to some fluctuation, reveal that from 1988 through 1991, there was an increase in the quantity of cocaine seized, an increase in the number of cannabis seizures and a decrease in the quantity of heroin seized (Department of Health 1992).

                                                          Supply Sources of Drugs

Drugs imported to Australia originate from a number of sources. Cannabis is the most frequently abused drug in Australia and originates mainly from local plantations, although some originates from South East Asia, South West Asia and the Middle East (i.e., Lebanon). Most of the amphetamines, the second most prevalent drug abused in Australia, are produced locally. Heroin is imported from the Golden Triangle of South East Asia primarily and secondarily from the Golden Crescent area in South West Asia and the Middle East (i.e., Lebanon). Cocaine is predominantly imported from North and South America, although it may go through other transit countries (Australia 1993).


References and notes


Sources of information in Australia: Statistics on drug abuse and related consequences in Australia are derived from a variety of sources which include: surveys of the national and subnational population, student and special population surveys, people in treatment, medi­cal emergencies surveys and drug caused deaths. Australia has no national registry of drug abusers but five of its six States and one of its two Territories maintain registries of clients in methadone treatment programs. Several data bases exist in the country including a National Drug Abuse Data System (NDADS), a survey clients in drug treatment centres, data bases maintained by law enforcement agencies, research commissioned by the Depart­ment of Health, Housing and Community Services such as cost and consequences re­sea­rch, drugs abuse in the workplace and a wide array of ad hoc surveys and targeted data collection.

            These sources are believed to provide a good indication of the dimensions of illicit drug problem in Australia in spite of the hidden nature of drug use. Australia's approach to drug research and data collection is exemplary and may be a model for others to follow.


* The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs based on Annual Reports Questionnaires for the years 1990 and 1991.

Australia 1992. General Debate Statement. Commission on Narcotic Drugs. February 1992.

Australia 1993. Country Statement Australia. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 36th Session. 29 March-7 April 1993.

Collins, D. J. et al. 1991. National Campaign against Drug Abuse. Estimating the Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in Australia. Monograph series no. 15. By David J. Collins and Helene M. Lapsley. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia, 1991.

NCADA 1985,1988,1991. NCADA National Household Survey (1985, 1988 and 1991) in Statistics on Drug Abuse in Australia 1992. Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia, 1992.

Department of Health 1992. Statistics on Drug Abuse in Australia 1992. Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia, 1992.

Armstrong, B. K. et al. 1988. The Quantification of Drug Caused Morbidity and Mortality in Australia. A Report to the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health, Part I. C. D'Arcy J. Holman and Bruce K. Armstrong, 1988.

ARQ 1985-1990. Replies to the UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaires for the years 1985 to 1990. (All the publications cited in this country profile are official annexures to ARQ or CMO).

CMO 1990,1991. Replies to the questionnaire con­cerning the seven targets of the Comprehensive Multidisciplinary Outline of Future Activi­ties in Drug Abuse Control (CMO) for 1990 and 1991. (All the publications cited in this country profile are official annexures to ARQ or CMO).

The general background information is taken from: Human Development Report 1993, published for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York, Oxford University Press, Demographic Yearbook, New York, United Nations 1993.