Drug use in Australia: A community prevalence study

L. Hancock*, R. Walsh, D. A. Henry, S. Redman, R. Sanson-Fisher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To estimate the prevalence of drug use in a representative Australian community. Design: Using a Census district sampling framework supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we randomly selected dwellings for our survey. A household was defined as all those people living permanently at the postal address. All eligible members of each household, 15 years and older, were asked to participate. Setting: The data were collected in the context of a large scale general population survey of health practices and attitudes, conducted in the Greater Newcastle area of New South Wales, during 1987 and 1988. Participants: Seventy-two per cent of eligible individuals approached (2623) agreed to participate in the survey. Main outcome measures: Participants were asked about their use of a number of drug types: medically prescribed drugs, nonprescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. For alcohol, only the results for use at a hazardous level according to the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines are reported here. Results: Seventy-eight per cent (95% confidence interval, 76%-80%) of the community sample reported having recently consumed at least one of these drug types. There were significant age and sex differences in drug use. A greater proportion of women and the older age groups (over 45 years) reported the use of both non-prescription and prescription medications than did men and the younger age groups. Conversely, a significantly greater proportion of men and the younger age groups reported the use of social and illicit drugs. Conclusion: The importance of regular, representative, methodologically comparable community studies of drug use is stressed, particularly in view of the inadequacy of the current routine sources of epidemiological data on drug use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-764
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


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