Has the proportion of pharmaceutical drug-related treatment episodes in Australia changed over time compared to other drugs?

The proportion of treatment episodes in Australia for which pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern remained relatively stable at around 4-6% between 2007-08 and 2016-17.

By contrast, treatment episodes where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern increased during this time period (from 11% to 26%), while heroin-related treatment episodes decreased (from 11% to 5%). Alcohol-related treatment episodes increased from 44% in 2007-08 to 48% in 2009-10, then decreased to 32% in 2016-17. Cannabis-related treatment episodes remained relatively stable at around 22-24%.

In 2007-08 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 5% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 44%, cannabis in 22%, amphetamines in 11%, heroin in 11%, and other drugs in 7%. In 2008-09 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 46%, cannabis in 23%, amphetamines in 9%, heroin in 10%, and other drugs in 6%. In 2009-10 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 48%, cannabis in 23%, amphetamines in 7%, heroin in 10%, and other drugs in 6%. In 2010-11 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 47%, cannabis in 22%, amphetamines in 9%, heroin in 9%, and other drugs in 7%. In 2011-12 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 46%, cannabis in 22%, amphetamines in 11%, heroin in 9%, and other drugs in 6%. In 2012-13 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 41%, cannabis in 24%, amphetamines in 14%, heroin in 8%, and other drugs in 7%. In 2013-14 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 6% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 40%, cannabis in 24%, amphetamines in 17%, heroin in 7%, and other drugs in 6%. In 2014-15 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 5% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 38%, cannabis in 24%, amphetamines in 20%, heroin in 6%, and other drugs in 7%. In 2015-16 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 4% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 32%, cannabis in 23%, amphetamines in 23%, heroin in 6%, and other drugs in 12%. In 2016-17 in Australia, pharmaceutical drugs were the principal drug of concern in 4% of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes, alcohol in 32%, cannabis in 22%, amphetamines in 26%, heroin in 5%, and other drugs in 11%.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services in Australia 2016-17 (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

† This FAQ uses data from the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Dataset, which defines the pharmaceutical drugs referred to in this question as: benzodiazepines, codeine, morphine, buprenorphine, oxycodone, and methadone.

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

Principal Drug of Concern: The main substance that leads an individual to seek treatment from an alcohol and drug treatment agency (as stated by the individual).

Treatment Episode: A period of contact between a client and a treatment provider. Only ‘closed’ treatment episodes are included in the data used here. An episode is closed if there is a change in the principal drug of concern, main treatment, or service delivery setting; if the treatment ends; or if the patient is imprisoned or dies.