Drug Use

AUSTRALIA, a country of sports champions, innovators … and drug takers.

The nation has the inglorious distinction of having the highest proportion of recreational drug users in the world — an embarrassing new low, albeit from getting high.

Our collective craving for a hit is only set to heighten, with the number of drug users continuing to rise steadily.

The frightening statistics in the United Nation’s 2014 World Drug Report confirm Australia as leading the world in the use of party drug ecstasy, third in methamphetamines and fourth in cocaine.

Of greater concern is the addiction­ to prescribed or black market opioids such as codeine and morphine. We rank second only to the US, with 3.1-3.6 per cent of people between 15 and 65 considered regular users, mostly women.

Interactive map: World Drug Report 2014

“Expert opinion points to an increase in the consumption of cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens and solvents and inhalants but a decline in the use of ecstasy,” it said.“There is a wide range of drug analogues and new psychoactive substances currently available in the Australian illicit drug market.”

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak said Australia’s burgeoning appetite for illicit drugs was fuelled by both a cashed-up and unfettered new generation and an underclass of Australians disadvantaged by growing social and economic inequality.

“There is certainly greater demand for drugs and that is likely because of economic and social conditions. People on one hand have more money to spend and on the other there are more people who are at risk — and those that are at risk are getting worse because of high unemployment, poor job prospects, lack of optimism,’’ Dr Wodak said.

COCAINE (% usage) ECSTASY (% usage) CANNABIS (% usage)
1 Scotland 2.4 Australia 3.0 Iceland 18.3
2 Spain 2.3 New Zealand 2.6 USA 14.8
3 USA 2.3 Scotland 1.7 New Zealand 14.6
4 Australia 2.1 Netherlands 1.4 Nigeria 14.3
5 Uruguay 2.1 England/Wales 1.3 Canada 12.2
6 England/Wales 1.9 Bulgaria 1.2 Bermuda 10.9
7 Malta 1.78 Estonia 1.2 Australia 10.3
8 Brazil 1.75 USA 1.2 Spain 9.6

He said the rise in drug use was being matched by an increase in the number of deaths attributed to overdose. More than three people die each day from a drug overdose, the majority caused by a rising tide of opioid pill popping by women.

“What is more concerning is (that) overdoses are rising fast. They’ve been rising steadily for some years,’’ Dr Wodak said.

Australian National Council on Drugs, executive director Gino Vumbaca, said the sheer volume and availability of a host of recreation drugs was providing a smorgasbord for a young generation.

He also blamed authorities for relaxing their fight against the scourge of drugs — a battle they appeared to be winning 10 years ago. “Drug use was going down and we were dealing with a critical level of overdoses because a lot of investment and attention was going into the issue,’’ he said.