Drugs of concern

People may seek AOD treatment services due to the problematic use of one or more drugs. For most people, however, there is one drug that is of most concern for them, and therefore the focus of the treatment they receive. This is referred to as their principal drug of concern (PDOC). Clients can also report other drugs of concern (referred to as additional drugs of concern).

Principal drugs of concern

In 2017–18, the most common principal drugs of concern that led clients to seek treatment were alcohol (34% of all treatment episodes), amphetamines (25%), cannabis (21%) and heroin (5%). This pattern was similar among Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients. There was variation across age groups in the most common PDOC. The majority of clients aged 10–18 sought treatment for a PDOC of cannabis (59%), while the majority of those aged 60 and over sought treatment for alcohol (77%).

Across jurisdictions, there was variation in the most common principal drugs of concern. Alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in the Northern Territory (58% of episodes), the Australian Capital Territory (43%), Tasmania (41%), New South Wales (38%) and Victoria (32%); whereas, in South Australia and Western Australia, amphetamines were the most common principal drug of concern (35% and 34% of episodes, respectively). In Queensland, cannabis was the most common principal drug of concern, reported in 32.3% of episodes slightly above alcohol reported in 31.9% of episodes.

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, the number of closed treatment episodes with amphetamines as a principal drug of concern increased by around 75% (from 28,919 to 50,596 treatment episodes), while closed treatment episodes where heroin was the principal drug of concern decreased by around 13% (from 12,000 to 10,404 treatment episodes). Additionally, the number of closed treatment episodes where cocaine was the principal drug of concern increased by 153% (from 550 in 2013–14 to 1,393 in 2017–18), while closed treatment episodes where morphine was the principal drug of concern decreased by 40% between 2013–14 and 2017–18 (from 1,609 to 970 treatment episodes).

Alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in closed treatment episodes reported across all agency remoteness areas, with higher proportions reported in Remote and Very remote areas than Major cities (59% and 71%, compared with 32%, respectively). While the majority of treatment for a client’s own drug use is provided in Major cities (71%), where morphine or volatile solvents were the principal drug of concern, the largest proportion of closed episodes were provided in Outer regional areas (38% and 57% respectively).

Additional drugs of concern

Additional drugs of concern refer to any other drugs the client reports using in addition to the principal drug of concern, clients can nominate up to 5 additional drugs. Of these treatment episodes, in less than half (41%) the client reported more than one drug of concern.

Cannabis and nicotine were the most commonly reported additional drugs of concern (both 16% of closed episodes). However, types of additional drugs of concern often varied by principal drug of concern. For example, where alcohol was the principal drug of concern and at least 1 additional drug of concern was reported, cannabis (33%) was the most common additional drug of concern. Comparatively, where heroin was the principal drug of concern and at least 1 additional drug of concern was reported, amphetamines (25%) was the most common.