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The current state of recreational drug use in Australia

2 November 2021 | 3:01 pm | Parry Tritsiniotis

Unharm has today released a groundbreaking report which reveals important new insights into recreational Drug use in Australia.

Unharm has today released a groundbreaking report which reveals important new insights into how Australians access, consume and experience drugs today. The report presents findings from nearly 800 participants across all over Australia. Unsurprisingly 83% of the participants had recently used prohibited drugs. The survey aimed to understand people's experiences with drugs, their thoughts on legalisation, and the impact of COVID on use.

The survey results disrupt the conventional narrative that only people on the fringes of mainstream society or risk-taking young people use drugs. More than two-thirds of survey participants were over the age of 30, and more than a third were over the age of 45. More than a quarter earned over $100,000. Participants were far more likely to have had negative experiences using alcohol than many other illegal drugs. On drug arrests, Over the 10 year period where the ACIC recorded a 96% increase in arrests, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that the number of people who used drugs in Australia went from 2,700,000 to 3,400,000. However, the majority of people surveyed by Unharm who recently used drugs think it’s very unlikely they will be caught. People in the lowest income bracket were much more likely to report being stopped and searched for drugs and charged with a drug-related offence. This suggests a relationship between income inequality and criminalisation in Australia.

Survey results also found that people’s lifetime experiences with most drugs was overwhelmingly positive, with drugs including MDMA, cannabis and cocaine all ranked above alcohol for overall positive experiences. The report also confirms that people who use drugs care about safety, and 79% would feel much safer if they could access drugs which are currently illegal via a pharmacy or a dedicated shop. The main reason was certainty about what is in the product.

Unharm CEO, Dr Will Tregoning said: ‘As a parent myself I understand that many parents are concerned about their kids taking drugs, especially when the contents of those drugs might be unknown. The positive news in our survey is that a broad range of people use drugs recreationally and safely. As we’ve seen, people continue to use drugs, including the prohibited ones. If we could have a more realistic response to drug use, we could make people safer, including young people who decide to try drugs for the first time.’

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Additional findings include:

  • Tobacco and alcohol ranked lower for overall positive experience than drugs which under the law are illegal to buy and use.
  • A majority of people supported a legal, regulated market for all drug types.
  • For all drugs except cannabis, people were more likely to support a legal, regulated market with distinct rules for supply for each drug than they were to support legalising just personal use.
  • For drugs other than heroin, people who recently consumed prohibited drugs mostly said those drugs were easy to get.
  • Some people were finding it harder to get some prohibited drugs because of COVID-19, particularly MDMA
  • Cannabis, alcohol, heroin and tobacco were the drugs that people most often said they had increased their use of during COVD-19. MDMA, ketamine and cocaine were the drugs that people most often said they had decreased use of.
  • Most people who had consumed prohibited drugs in the previous 12 months thought it would be very unlikely they would be caught by police.

You can access the full report HERE.