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.

Among 14-17 year olds, 57% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 8% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 0.2%** have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 18-24 year olds, 61% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 14% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 1%* have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 25-29 year olds, 69% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 22% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 1%* have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 30-39 year olds, 71% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 25% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 1% have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 40-49 year olds, 75% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 27% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 1% have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 50-59 year olds, 75% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 30% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 1% have used methadone/buprenorphine. Among 60+ year olds, 68% have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids in their lifetime; 31% have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills; and 0.7% have used methadone/buprenorphine. * 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 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.