Australians' Attitudes Towards Pharmaceutical Drugs

This section provides an overview of Australians’ attitudes towards pharmaceutical drug use.

It draws on data from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018) for individuals aged 14 years and older. The NDSHS is a triennial general population survey of Australians' awareness, attitudes, and behaviours relating to alcohol and other drug use. It is one of the best data sources available to provide a national population demographic profile of Australians’ attitudes towards pharmaceutical drugs.

To ensure consistency with the source data, this section of the NADK includes the following pharmaceutical drugs:

  • Pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids
  • Tranquillisers/sleeping pills
  • Methadone/buprenorphine.

Not all of these drugs are included in each FAQ, due to limitations of the data source. Footnotes have been provided in each FAQ to identify exactly which drugs are referred to and how they have been defined according to the NDSHS.  

What proportion of Australians think pharmaceuticals are the drugs that cause most deaths in Australia?

When Australians were asked which drug they thought directly or indirectly caused the most deaths in Australia, 2% chose pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, and 0.5% chose methadone/buprenorphine. Most people thought that alcohol (35%) or tobacco (24%) caused the most deaths. 

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: For the purpose of this FAQ, pharmaceutical drugs refer to pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (e.g. morphine, Panadeine Forte, Nurofen Plus), and methadone/buprenorphine.

Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

Do Australians consider pharmaceutical drug use to be a problem?

When Australians were asked which drug they first think of when people talk about “a drug problem”, 2% chose pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, and 0.4% chose methadone/buprenorphine. Meth/amphetamine was the drug most likely to be considered a problem (46%).

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: For the purpose of this FAQ, pharmaceutical drugs refer to pain-killers/pain relievers/opioids (e.g. panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine, oxycodone), and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g. done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub). 

Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

Do Australians consider pharmaceuticals to be the drugs of most serious concern to the community?

When Australians were asked which form of drug use they thought was of most serious concern for the general community, 2% chose the non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, and 0.5% chose the non-medical use of methadone/buprenorphine. A larger proportion (40%) thought that meth/amphetamine (for non-medical purposes) was the drug of most serious concern.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: For the purpose of this FAQ, pharmaceutical drugs refer to the non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (e.g. morphine, panadeine forte, nurofen plus), and the non-medical use of methadone/buprenorphine.

Non-medical use: Drugs used:

  • By itself to induce a drug experience or feeling; or
  • With other drugs in order to enhance a drug experience.

Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

Do Australians approve or disapprove of the personal use of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

The majority of Australians disapprove of the personal use of pharmaceutical drug† for non-medical purposes, particularly methadone/buprenorphine. 

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

† This FAQ uses data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which defines the pharmaceutical drugs referred to in this question as: the non-medical use of: tranquillisers/sleeping pills, prescription pain-killers/pain relievers/opioids (e.g. oxycodone, panadeine forte, morphine), over-the-counter pain-killers/pain relievers/opioids (e.g. a codeine product such as nurofen plus), and methadone/buprenorphine.

Please note: Data presented here differ from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report, due to different analysis methodologies. The AIHW analysis excluded the “don’t know enough to say” category, thus changing the proportions in the remaining response categories.

Non-medical use: A drug used:

  • By itself to induce a drug experience or feeling; or
  • With other drugs in order to enhance a drug experience.

Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.