Use Patterns

This section provides information about the ways in which Australians use pharmaceutical drugs. It addresses how often Australians use pharmaceutical drugs, the most common types used, and locations of use.

This section uses data from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018) and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, 2018, Report 6).

 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’ patterns of pharmaceutical drug use. FAQs answered using the NDSHS include data for individuals aged 14 years and older.

 The NWDMP is one of a number of alcohol and other drug data collection systems in Australia. The NWDMP is designed to measure population-scale use of illicit and licit substances. It specifically measures the presence of 12 drugs including alcohol, nicotine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, heroin, MDMA, oxycodone and fentanyl. Estimates of drug consumption in a population are derived from back-calculations of the concentration of drug metabolites (that are excreted into the sewer system after consumption) measured in wastewater samples. Wastewater data from all states and territories is included in the analysis. Note that wastewater analysis does not differentiate between prescribed and illicit use of pharmaceuticals.

To ensure consistency with the source data:

FAQs which use NDSHS data include the following pharmaceutical drugs:

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

 FAQs which use NWDMP data include the following pharmaceutical drugs:

  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl.

Not all of these drugs are included in each FAQ, due to small numbers of people using some drug types, and limitations of the datasets. Footnotes have been provided in each FAQ to identify exactly which drugs are referred to and how they have been defined according to the data source.

What proportion of Australians have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime?

Most Australians (72%) have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Are men or women in Australians more likely to have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime?

A higher proportion of Australian women (76%) have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime compared to men (68%).

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Are younger or older Australians more likely to have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime?

Australians aged 40-49 years and 50-59 years are more likely than other age groups to have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs and the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

What types of pharmaceutical drugs have Australians used in their lifetime?

Most Australians (69%) have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids during their lifetime, and a quarter (25%) have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills. Smaller proportions have used methadone/buprenorphine (1%).

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

Please note: This FAQ uses data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which defines the pharmaceutical drugs referred to in this question as: the medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Have men and women in Australia used different types of pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime?

Women are more likely than men to have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids and tranquillisers/sleeping pills during their lifetime. Approximately the same proportion of men and women have used methadone/buprenorphine. 

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

Please note: This FAQ uses data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which defines the pharmaceutical drugs referred to in this question as: the medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Have younger and older Australians used different types of pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime?

Pharmaceutical drug use is generally more likely among older age groups. The most commonly used pharmaceutical drugs in all age groups are pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, followed by tranquillisers/sleeping pills.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs and the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use. 

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.

Does lifetime pharmaceutical drug use in Australia vary by geographic location?

Lifetime use of any pharmaceutical druguseis lower in major cities compared to other geographic locations. When examining specific drug types, use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids is slightly higher in regional and remote areas compared to major cities, while use of tranquillisers/sleeping pills and methadone/buprenorphine is relatively similar across geographic locations.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Does lifetime pharmaceutical drug use in Australia vary by geographic location and gender?

Australian women residing in major cities are more likely than men to have used pharmaceutical drugs in their lifetime. In other geographic locations, rates of lifetime pharmaceutical drug use are similar for men and women.

When specific pharmaceutical drug types are considered, women are more likely than men to have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills in all geographical areas. Women residing in major cities are also more likely to have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids than their male counterparts, but pain-killer/pain-reliever/opioid use in regional and remote locations is similar for women and men. Rates of methadone/buprenorphine use are also fairly similar for women and men in all geographical locations.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

Does lifetime pharmaceutical drug use in Australia vary by jurisdiction?

The Australian Capital Territory had the highest level of lifetime use of any pharmaceutical drug, whilst New South Wales had the lowest.

When specific pharmaceutical drug types are considered, lifetime use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids is highest in the Australian Capital Territory (75%) and lowest in New South Wales (67%). Lifetime use of tranquillisers/sleeping pills is highest in Tasmania (28%), and lowest in New South Wales (23%). Rates of methadone/buprenorphine use are relatively similar across jurisdictions at approximately 1-2%.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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. 

What proportion of Australians have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Thirteen percent of Australians have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 5% have used in the past 12 months, 2% have used in the past month, and 1% have used in the past week.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Are men or women in Australia more likely to have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Similar proportions of Australian men and women have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, in the past 12 months, in the past month, and in the past week.

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

Are younger or older Australians more likely to have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugsdoes not vary enormously by age, but is generally slightly less common among those who are younger (under 18 years) and those who are older (over 50 years).

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 medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub). 

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

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.

What is the average age at which Australians start to use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

The age at which Australians first start to use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes differs by drug type. The average age at which Australians started using pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes is 23 years, compared to 24 years for methadone/buprenorphine, and 31 years for tranquillisers/sleeping pills.

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

† 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

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.

What types of pharmaceutical drugs do Australians use for non-medical purposes?

The pharmaceutical drugs that Australians are most likely to have used for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, past 12 months, past month, and past week are pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, followed by tranquillisers/sleeping pills.

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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

Do men and women in Australia use different types of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Australian men are slightly more likely than Australian women to have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime and in the past year. Australian women are slightly more likely than men to have used tranquilisers/sleeping pills non-medically in their lifetime, but men and women are equally likely to have used tranquilisers/sleeping pills in the past year. They are also equally as likely to have used methadone/buprenorphine, both in their lifetime and in the past year.

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

Do younger and older Australians use different types of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids are the pharmaceutical drugs most commonly used for non-medical purposes by all age groups. Use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids, tranquillisers/sleeping pills, and methadone/buprenorphine tends to be slightly lower among younger age groups, but relatively consistent across other ages.

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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

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.

Does pharmaceutical drug use for non-medical purposes vary by geographic location in Australia?

Use of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes is slightly less common in major cities, compared to inner regional and outer regional/remote/very remote areas.

When considering specific drug types, non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids is also slightly less common in major cities, but use of tranquilisers/sleeping pills and methadone/buprenorphine is relatively similar across geographic locations.

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

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.

Does pharmaceutical drug use for non-medical purposes in Australia vary by jurisdiction?

Australians in different jurisdictions tend to use pharmaceutical drugsfor non-medical purposes at relatively similar rates. While there are some differences between jurisdictions, they are relatively small.

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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

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.

Where do Australians obtain pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Australians who used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months most commonly obtained them from a shop/retail outlet. Australians who used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months most commonly obtained them from a prescription.

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)) and tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

Where do Australians use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

The majority of Australians who used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids or tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months typically used them in private homes (95% and 85%, respectively).

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)) and tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

How often do Australians usually use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes?

Among Australians who used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months, the largest proportion typically used once or twice a year. The smallest proportion used every day.

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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)) and tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium).

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.

Do men or women in Australia use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes more often?

Among Australians who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months, women are more likely than men to use every day and about once a month. Men are more likely than women to use every few months, and once or twice a year.

Among Australians who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months, women are more likely than men to use every day, once a week or more, and every few months. Men are more likely than women to use about once a month, and once or twice a year.

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)) and tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

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.

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

What proportion of Australians who used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes concurrently used other drugs?

Almost half of the Australians who used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months used another drug at the same time. The drugs most commonly used concurrently with pain-killers/analgesics were alcohol and tobacco.

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

Please note: 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 pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients))

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. 

Does the sale of pharmaceutical drugs in Australia vary by geographical location?

Research conducted on pharmaceutical opioid sales data found substantial jurisdictional variation in utilisation rates. The map below shows opioid utilisation data for Australia in 2013, with the darker shaded areas indicating higher rates of use.

In general, major cities had lower levels of opioid utilisation than more remote areas. The highest rates of opioid use per person were found in Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland. The lowest rate of use was in the Northern Territory.

Source: Degenhardt, L., Gisev, N., Cama, E., Nielsen, S., Larance, B., & Bruno, R. (2016). The extent and correlates of community-based pharmaceutical opioid utilisation in Australia. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety; 25: 521–538.

† The map is broken down by 2011 Statistical Local Areas (SLAs). The data presented here are measured in oral morphine equivalent (OME) milligrams per person, and include all pharmaceutical opioid purchases made through pharmaceutical wholesalers and manufacturers who sold directly to pharmacies in the 2013 calendar year, representing over 94% coverage of the Australian market. This study focused on opioids sold in the community and excluded opioids supplied in hospitals.

Do the levels of pharmaceutical drugs in wastewater in Australia vary by geographic location?

Oxycodone and fentanyl use vary substantially between Australian jurisdictions.

Oxycodone use was highest in Tasmania and lowest in Western Australia. Fentanyl use was highest in Tasmania, but relatively similar in all other jurisdictions. Both oxycodone and fentanyl use were substantially higher in regional areas than in capital cities.

† This FAQ uses data from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, which measures the major metabolite of oxycodone and fentanyl, two legally prescribed pharmaceuticals with abuse potential. Further information on the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is available here.