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.

Among Australians aged 14-17 years, 4% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 2%* have done so in the past year. 1%* have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 0.7%* have done so in the past year. 0.1%** have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime and 0.1%** have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 18-24 years, 8% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 4% have done so in the past year. 3% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 2% have done so in the past year. 0.8%* have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime, and 0.3%* have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 25-29 years, 11% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 4% have done so in the past year. 6% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 2% have done so in the past year. 0.6%* have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime, and 0.1%** have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 30-39 years, 10% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 3% have done so in the past year. 6% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 2% have done so in the past year. 0.5% have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime, and 0.2%* have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 40-49 years, 11% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 5% have done so in the past year. 5% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 2% have done so in the past year. 0.5% have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime, and 0.1%* have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 50-59 years, 10% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 3% have done so in the past year. 5% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 1% have done so in the past year. 0.5%* have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime, and 0.1%** have done so in the past year. Among Australians aged 60+ years, 10% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 3% have done so in the past year. 4% have misused tranquillisers/sleeping pills in their lifetime, and 1% have done so in the past year. 0.1%* have misused methadone/buprenorphine in their lifetime and 0.0**% have done so in the past year. * 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 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.