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Illicit drug use hits a new high: 38% July 29, 2005 - smh.com.au
Ecstasy is more popular than ever before, with new research showing one in five Australians in their early 20s has used the party drug, making it more prevalent in Australia than in any other English-speaking country.
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare paints the most comprehensive picture of Australians' drug use in three years.
The good news is it reveals our smoking rates have gone down considerably, giving us the fewest number of daily smokers of all the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
But the same research raises concerns about binge-drinking among young women, showing teenage girls are out-drinking boys of the same age, putting themselves at risk of harm in the long and short term.
More than a third of Australians - 38 per cent - have used an illicit drug, most commonly marijuana, which one in three people have used at some stage.
But regular marijuana use is at a 13-year-low, with only 11 per cent of the population having used it recently, and ecstasy has picked up the slack. Use of the "party drug" is at a 13-year high, with 3 per cent of Australians having used it recently.
The government report, released today, shows the drug is popular among young people in their teens and 20s - one in five 20- to 24-year-olds admitted to taking the drug, and the same number said they had taken methamphetamines (speed and its purer form, known as "crystal meth") as well.
Thirteen per cent of the age group had used ecstasy recently, and 11 per cent of them had used methamphetamines recently. Overall, Australians used more speed, ecstasy and marijuana than people in Britain, the US and New Zealand. The Irish were equal to Australians in their use of ecstasy, but not the other drugs.
David Caldicott, an emergency doctor and drugs specialist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, said the figures showed ecstasy-taking was "an act of civil disobedience", which made a mockery of government efforts to stamp it out.
"All the messages of harm associated with ecstasy aren't being listened to," he said. "[Young people] find they can use these drugs with impunity."
Dr Caldicott said "1950s-style anti-drug campaigns" would never work with the young ecstasy users.
"They are functional drug users," he said. "They are not the 'derros' and druggies of society. They are tertiary-educated and wealthy."
Another key feature of the drugs report was the growing trend of dangerous drinking levels among young women.
Girls aged 14 to 19 were more likely than their male counter-parts to drink to levels that risked long-term harm such as heart attack, liver and brain damage. They were also more likely to binge drink, or drink at levels that risked short-term harm such as assault or accidents.
Anne Mitchell, from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, said the trend in binge-drinking among young women coincided with the mass marketing of "girlie" alcoholic drinks, often called "alcopops", over the past five to 10 years.
"We are living in an increasingly permissive society where young people think they can do it all," she said.
"But this is a particularly speedy [trend] and it's gender-based."