Drug statistics

Illicit drug use in the last 12 months

According to the 2022-23 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 17.9% of Australians had used an illicit drug in the last 12 month, a significant increase from 2019 (16.4%). The South Australian percentage was slightly lower at 17%, which was stable from 2019 (15.4%). See graph below.

The most commonly used illicit drug in South Australia (at least once in the last 12 months) in 2022-23 was cannabis (11.1%) followed by cocaine (4.1%), hallucinogens (2.1%) and ecstasy (1.3%). The use of cocaine and hallucinogens increased significantly from 2019 (2.5% and 0.7%, respectively). Recent use of methamphetamine was low at only 1.1% in 2022-23. Recent non-medical use of painkillers and pharmaceutical stimulants was at 2% and 2.1%, respectively in 2022-23.

The percentage of South Australian men who reported recent use of illicit drugs was higher than that of women (20.7% compared with 13.7%) and there was a significant increase among men between 2019 (16.7%) and 2022-23 (20.7%). The age group with the highest percentage of people who reported recent illicit drug use was aged 18-24 years (36.3%); there were no significant changes between 2019 and 2022-23 for any age group.

  • A summary of Australian and South Australian data on the use of alcohol and other Drugs is found here

Illicit drug use among secondary school students(1)

The percentage of students that had ever used at least one illicit drug (includes cannabis, meth/amphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens) has decreased significantly since 1996. In 2023-23, 13.1% of students reported ever using at least one illicit drug and 11% reported using in the last year; this remained stable between 2017 and 2022-23. There were no changes in the lifetime use of at least one illicit drug between 2017 and 2.22-23 by sex (12.6% to 14.4% among male students, and 13.4% to 11.6% among female students), or in use in the last year (10.7% to 12.3% among male students, and 11.8% to 9.5% among female students). There were also no differences between male and female students in 2022-23.

There was a significant decrease between 2017 and 2022-23 among students aged 12-15 years (9.7% to 6.4%) in the percentage that had ever used at least once illicit drug, and a significant increase among students aged 16-17 years (18.2% to 27.7%). During 2022-23, students aged 16-17 years were significantly more likely to have ever used at least one illicit drug (27.7% compared with 6.4% of those aged 12-15 years) or to have used at least one in the last year (23.1% compared with 5.6% of those aged 12-15 years).

Cannabis was the most used illicit drug by 11.1% of students in their lifetime in 2022-23, stable from 2017 (10.2%), but a significant decrease since 1996. There was also no change in use in the last year (9.6% in 2017 and 9.3% in 2022-23). Estimates for female students were too unreliable for use, but there were no changes in the use of cannabis between 2017 and 2022-23 among male students.

There was a significant decrease between 2017 and 2022-23 among students aged 12-15 years in the percentage that had ever used cannabis (6.7% to 4.2%) or had used cannabis in the last year (5.5% to 3.5%); there were no changes among students aged 16-17 years. During 2022-23, students aged 16-17 years were significantly more likely to have ever used cannabis (26.1% compared with 4.2% of those aged 12-15 years) or to have used cannabis in the last year (22.2% compared with 3.5% of those aged 12-15 years).

For more information, see the following publications:

Illicit drug use requiring treatment services

In South Australia, alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern for which treatment was sought in 2021-22, accounting for 41% of closed treatment episodes (37% in 2020-21). This was followed by amphetamines (31%; 33% in 2020-21) and cannabis (15%; 15% in 2020-21). Up until 2015-16, alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern, when it was replaced by amphetamines.  This has shifted in more recent years: in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the proportion of episodes where alcohol was the principal drug of concern was greater than amphetamines (37% compared with 33% in 2020-21, and 41% compared with 31% in 2021-22).

More detailed findings are provided in the following research publication:

Overdose deaths

Information on the number and rate of drug-induced deaths in Australia among between 1997 and 2021 can be found in a bulletin released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. This bulletin reports on opioid, amphetamine, and cocaine-induced deaths provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) using data from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS). The bulletin can be found here.

This bulletin includes an online visualisation that allows viewers to look at trends over time by drug, opioid class, jurisdiction, sex, age group, intent, as well as reporting on drug-induced deaths where amphetamine or cocaine are contributory (capturing where cocaine or amphetamine contributed to, but another drug caused, death). The link to this is found in the bulletin.

Drug trends

The Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) provides information about drug trends:

Blood-borne virus infection

The Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey (ANSPS) provides estimates of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) antibodies among people who inject drugs in Australia.

The most recent report can be found here.

There has been a significant decrease in the last decade in HCV antibody prevalence in Australia, from 53% in 2012 to 32% in 2022. This has also decreased significantly in the last five years, with prevalence at 45% in 2018. HCV antibody prevalence in South Australia decreased significantly between 2018 (40%) and 2022 (34%).

For HIV there has been no significant change in antibody prevalence in the last decade in Australia, from 1.2% in 2012 to 2.1% in 2022, as well as no change in the last five years, with prevalence at 1.7% in 2018.  In South Australia, HIV antibody prevalence has remained stable over the last five years, and was at 0.4% in 2022. Note that the actual numbers are small (no respondents tested positive for HIV in 2022 in South Australia, and 37 nationally).

[1] The ASSAD Survey is the largest survey of adolescent substance use in Australia. Every three years since 1984, up to 30,000 secondary school students aged 12 to 17 years have taken part. Students are recruited from South Australian Government, Catholic and Independent schools. The most recent iteration before this release was in 2017. The planned 2020 survey was postponed due to COVID-19 and conducted in 2022-23. In 2022-23, the response rate was very low at 5%; of 143 schools approached, only seven participated. In addition, no students from Catholic schools and no 12-year-olds participated. Consequently, the Independent school students were used to represent non-Government students, and students aged 13 years from Government schools were used to represent 12-13-year-olds. Due to the significantly smaller sample size achieved in 2022-23, estimates of use in the last week were unreliable for nearly all drug classes, and for some drugs, use in the last month was also unreliable. Some estimates by sex and age group should be interpreted with caution.