IAWGD Annual Report 2014-2015: Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs use and harms in Tasmania

The use of drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals causes significant harms to individuals, families and the community.  The health harms includes increased risk of injuries and deaths, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis, mental health problems, and shortened life expectancy.  It also includes economic harms from health, hospital, law enforcement and justice costs, decreased productivity, associated criminal activity, reinforcement of marginalisation and disadvantage, domestic and family violence and child protection issues. Alcohol and other drug problems are also associated with social and health determinants such as discrimination, unemployment, homelessness, poverty and family breakdown.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey[1], alcohol and tobacco remained the most widely used drugs in Tasmania by those aged 14 years and over.  In 2013, self-reported alcohol, tobacco and other drug use shows:

  • 16.7 per cent smoked daily, 30 per cent exceeded the single occasion risk guidelines for alcohol consumption and 15.1 per cent used illicit drugs.  These had not changed significantly from the 2010 survey.
  • Daily smokers rose in Tasmania between 2001 and 2007 (from 21 per cent to 24 per cent) and then substantially declined in 2010 (by 7 percentage points), then remained fairly stable in 2013 at 16.7 per cent, the second-highest after the Northern Territory.
  • Smoking was highest among Tasmanians aged 18–24 at 31.6 per cent, more than double the rates in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Australian Capital Territory.
  • Daily drinking rates in Tasmania remain fairly constant at the 6 per cent mark (5.9 per cent in 2013 compared to 6.4 per cent in 2010), which is on par with the national average.  19.1 per cent of Tasmanians reported drinking at levels that places them at risk of alcohol‑related harm over their lifetime (on average more than 2 standard drinks per day).
  • The rate of single occasion risky drinking (more than 4 standard drinks at least once a week) was 16.1 per cent. Of those, 15.2 per cent were drinking at risky levels at least daily. Those in the 18 – 24 age group (58.8 per cent) are the most likely to drink at single occasion risky levels.
  • In 2013, 15.1 per cent of Tasmanians indicated they had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.  This is an increase of 3.1 percentage points from 2010; however, the trend over the previous 5 surveys (12 year) shows that rate has fluctuated around the mid-teens.
  • Those in the 25 - 34 age range are more likely to have used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months (28.5 per cent).
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug with 11.8 per cent using cannabis in the previous 12 months. This was followed by meth/amphetamine (3.0 per cent) and ecstasy (2.9 per cent), noting these last two estimates have a relative standard error of between 25 to 50 per cent and should be used with caution.
  • Those in the 20-29 age are the most likely to use cannabis (26.7 per cent).
  • Nationally, the reported use of crystal methamphetamine more than doubled, increasing from 22 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent in 2013.
  • The increase in the use of crystal methamphetamine was also reflected in Tasmania.  Of those using meth/amphetamine, the use of crystal methamphetamine increased from 5.4 per cent in 2010 to 21.6 per cent in 2013.  Due to the small sample size, the relative standard error is greater than 50 per cent and is considered too unreliable for general use.
  • Misuse of any pharmaceutical (for non-medical purposes) was reported by 4.3 per cent, of which pain-killers/analgesics at 2.7 per cent was the highest.

Other data indicates:

  • The Council of Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity database report shows that a total of 6.4 per cent of Tasmanian women consumed alcohol during their pregnancy in 2013, and this continues to be more prevalent amongst older mothers in Tasmania, especially those aged between 30 and 39 years[2].
  • The proportion of Tasmanian women who reported smoking during pregnancy has fallen significantly since 2010.  In 2013, 15.1 per cent of women reported smoking whilst pregnant2. Although this proportion continues to fall, smoking during pregnancy continues to be very common among young mothers under 20 years and 20-24 years, with 33.4 per cent and 26.1 per cent respectively smoking in 2013.
  • In Tasmania in 2010, there were an estimated 155 deaths attributable to alcohol and 2 636 hospitalisations[3].
  • The wider use of alcohol and cannabis is reflected in the number of drug and alcohol treatment service episodes, with alcohol the most common principal drug of concern in episodes provided to clients for their own drug use (39 per cent of clients and 41 per cent of episodes)[4] in 2013-14.  This is closely followed by cannabis, accounting for 30 per cent of episodes. This is a decline over the last five years from 44 per cent in 2009-10.
  • Amphetamines (11 per cent) and morphine (4 per cent) were the next most common principal drugs of concern. In Tasmania amphetamines as the most common principal drug of concern has increased from 6 per cent in 2009-10 to 11 per cent in 2013-14.
    • The 2013-14 Illicit Drug Data Report of the Australian Crime Commission[5] shows that Tasmania was the only state to report a decrease in the number of ATS seizures in the reporting period, but the weight of seizures increased between 2012-13 and 2013-14.  This included a significant seizure of four kilograms of ATS in June 2014 under a joint operation coordinated by the Australian Crime Commission and involved the Australian Federal Police, Tasmania Police, Queensland Police Service and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, in partnership with West Mercia Police (UK).
  • Drug-related hospital separations data from 1993 to 2013 shows that in Tasmania separations for opioid use have stabilised at 265 per million persons in the past few years; amphetamine-related separations were lowest in Tasmania at 57 separations per million persons, noting however that amphetamine-related psychosis separations had increased in the past year; and Tasmania recorded that second highest rates of cannabis-related separations, accounting for 58 per cent of all separations[6].

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2014. 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. Drug statistics series no. 28. Cat. no. PHE 183. Canberra: AIHW.

[2] Council of Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity Annual Report 2013. 2015. State of Tasmania, Department of Health and Human Services, 2015

[3] Gao, C., Ogeil, R.P., & Lloyd, B. 2014. Alcohol's burden of disease in Australia. Canberra: FARE and VicHealth in collaboration with Turning Point

[4] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2013–14. Drug treatment series no. 25. Cat. no. HSE 158. Canberra: AIHW.

[5] Australian Crime Commission 2014. 2013-14 Illicit Drug Data Report. Canberra: Australian Crime Commission

[6] Roxburgh, A. and Burns, L (2013). Drug-related hospital stays in Australia, 1993-2013.  Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

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