Young People who Use Drugs
The proportion of ACT young people who use alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs.
What do we measure?
The proportion of secondary students (aged 12-17 years) who report current use of alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs.
Data for these indicators are derived from the Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug survey (ASSAD) survey, which has been conducted in the ACT every three years since 1996. The most recent available survey data is for 2017 including 1,491 students across government, Catholic and independent schools.
Why is this important?
The harms to individuals, families, communities, and Australian society as a whole, from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are well-known. Adolescence is a critical age for monitoring the initiation of illicit drug use.
Drinking alcohol in adolescence can be harmful to young people's physical and psychosocial development. Alcohol-related damage to the brain may be responsible for problems with verbal skills and memory, learning difficulties, alcohol dependence and depression.48
Young people are more at risk of motor vehicle accidents, injuries, accidental death and suicide while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. They are also highly susceptible to being victims of crime.48
Tobacco smoking is one of the top risk factors for chronic disease, including many types of cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease.48
The ACT Government has been working actively over a number of years to prevent the uptake of smoking and reduce the harms to the community from tobacco.
A range of control measures are in place in the ACT. These measures apply to all smoking products including tobacco products, herbal products and personal vaporisers or related products (e-cigarettes).
Under the Tobacco and other Smoking Products Act 1927 it is prohibited to:
- sell smoking products to under 18 year olds
- purchase smoking products for use by people under 18 years old
- use a vending machine to sell smoking products
- sell food or toys that resemble smoking products
- sell cigarettes in quantities of less than 20.
The Health Minister is also empowered to declare a smoking product as prohibited if it has a distinctive fruity, sweet or confectionary-like character and where the contents or packaging may be attractive to children.
Restrictions also apply to the advertising and promotion of smoking products.
Under the Smoke-Free Public Places Act 2003, smoking is prohibited in the following areas:
- enclosed public places
- underage functions
- outdoor eating and drinking places
- within 10 metres from play equipment in ACT Government managed play spaces
- within five metres from bus stops, light rail stops and taxi ranks and
- at bus or train stations.
Under the Smoking in Cars with Children (Prohibition) Act 2011, smoking is prohibited in cars when children are present.
ACT Government also has smoke-free policies that apply at:
- ACT Health facilities (including hospitals) and
- ACT Government premises.
ACT Government offers schools, businesses, community groups and body corporates free 'No Smoking' signage to help reduce smoking issues around their buildings.
The ACT was one of the first Australian jurisdictions to regulate electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product.
Alcohol and other drugs
ACT Health funds a range of services for young people in the ACT. This includes residential withdrawal and rehabilitation, structured after/extended care and follow up of all clients following withdrawal and/or rehabilitation, counselling, support and case management and information and education.
ACT Health also funds the ACT Police and Court Diversion Program. Under the Police Early Diversion Program, offenders under the age of 18 found intoxicated or in possession of alcohol in a public place may be referred for an assessment or education session. Twenty-three young people were referred to this program in the 2017-18 financial year.
The ACT Government recently provided a supportive policy environment for the successful trial of a pill testing service at the Groovin the Moo music festival in Canberra on 29 April 2018. This is a harm reduction intervention that offers music festival-attendees free analysis of the chemical composition of illicit drugs. It also provides an opportunity to counsel attendees on the dangers of illicit drug taking. Eighty-five samples were submitted for testing, with two potentially deadly agents identified.
How is the ACT Progressing?
Definition of terms
Ever smoked -Students who had smoked at least a few pufs of a cigarette in their lifetime.
Current smokers - Students who had smoked cigarettes on at least one of the seven days preceding the day of the survey.
Daily smokers - Students who had smoked on each of the seven days preceding the day of the survey.
Source: ASSAD, 1996-2017.
The prevalence of tobacco use in secondary students in the ACT has decreased steadily over time (Figure 30).
In 2017, 14.1 per cent of all students surveyed reported having smoked at least once in their lifetime (ever smoked), 2.9 per cent of students reported smoking cigarettes on at least one day in the seven days before the survey (current smokers) and less than 1 per cent (0.6%) reported smoking cigarettes every day on each of the last seven days preceding the survey (daily smokers).
Although ACT secondary students' reported tobacco use remained relatively stable between the 2014 and 2017 survey periods, there have been significant decreases in smoking trends among students over the reporting periods. This is most obvious in the 'ever smoked' category, which dropped from 55.7 per cent in 1996 to 14.1 per cent in 2017. During the same period, the proportion of current smokers decreased from 20.4 per cent to 2.9 per cent, respectively, and daily smokers from 9.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent, respectively.
In 2017, students who were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent were more likely to be current smokers (11.6%) than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (2.7%); however, the proportions were not statistically significantly different for students reporting ever (26.4% versus 13.8%, respectively) or daily smoking (3.2% versus 0.5%, respectively).
Dentition of terms
Ever - Students who had drunk at least a sip of alcohol in their lifetime.
Last week - Students who had drunk alcohol on at least one of the seven days preceding the day of the survey.
Single occasion, risky drinking - Students who had drunk more than four alcoholic drinks on at least one of the seven days preceding the survey.
Source: ASSAD, 1996-2017.
Since 1999, there has been a decline in reported alcohol consumption among secondary students, most notably between the 2008 and 2011 survey cycles (Figure 31).
However, while alcohol consumption among ACT secondary students has decreased significantly over the longer term, there were no statistically significant changes between students reporting ever, last week or single occasion risky drinking between 2014 and 2017.
In 2017, 65.5 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had consumed at least a few sips of alcohol in their lifetime, which was similar to 2014 (71.6%). The number of students who reported drinking in the last week was also similar over the two survey periods (11.6% in 2017; 12.1% in 2014), as was the proportion of students who drank at single-occasion risky levels (3.7% in 2017; 5.0% in 2014).
The 2017 ASSAD survey indicates that there was no statistically significant difference between ACT secondary students who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and those that do not in reporting ever consuming alcohol (76.9% versus 65.3%) or consuming alcohol within the last week (16.1% versus 11.5%).
Table 36: Proportion (%) of ACT secondary students reporting ever having used illicit substances, 2014 and 2017
Used at least 1 illicit drug in lifetime*
Ever used cannabis
Ever used ecstasy
Ever used heroin (or other opiates)#^
Ever used LSD (hallucinogens)#
Ever used speed (amphetamines)^
Ever used cocaine
Source: ASSAD 2014, 2017.
Note *At least one illicit drug refers to the use of amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin or other opiates, hallucinogens or cannabis. # Difference between 2014 and 2017 is statistically significant. ^ Wording of the question changed in 2017.
Since 1996, there has been a statistically significant decline in students reporting having used at least one illicit substance in their lifetime (37.5% in 1996; 17.4% in 2017). There has also been a statistically significant decrease in the lifetime use of cannabis (36.5% in 1996; 14.9% in 2017) over the same period.
While use of cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine appear to have remained stable in recent years (Table 36) there has been a slight decrease in use of LSD (hallucinogens) between 2014 and 2017; however, further data are required in order to ascertain whether this decline will be sustained.
Note As the wording of the question for use of 'heroin and other opiates' and 'amphetamine use' changed in 2017, it is not possible to comment on differences between 2014 and 2017.
48 Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 2011, The National Drug Strategy 2010–2015: A framework for action on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, Publications Number: D0224.