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).

Among Australians aged 14-17 years 5% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 2%* in the past 12 months, 0.7%** in the past month, and 0.6%** in the past week. Among Australians aged 18-24 years 10% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 6% in the past 12 months, 3% in the past month, and 1%* in the past week. Among Australians aged 25-29 years 14% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 6% in the past 12 months, 2% in the past month, and 0.9%* in the past week. Among Australians aged 30-39 years 14% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 5% in the past 12 months, 2% in the past month, and 1% in the past week. Among Australians aged 40-49 years 14% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 6% in the past 12 months, 3% in the past month, and 1% in the past week. Among Australians aged 50-59 years 13% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 4% in the past 12 months, 2% in the past month, and 1% in the past week. Among Australians aged 60+ years 13% have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, 4% in the past 12 months, 2% in the past month, and 1% in the past week. * 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.

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.