Objective: To estimate the prevalence of illicit drug use among Australian secondary school students.
Method: Data was collected as part of the Australian School Student's Alcohol and Drugs Survey, a national survey of 29,447 secondary school students.
Results: Of all students aged 12-17 years, 39.9% (44.1% of males and 35.9% of females) reported having used at least one illicit drug in their lifetime. Cannabis was the most widely used illicit drug with 36.4% of all students reporting having used cannabis. Substantially fewer students reported using other drugs: hallucinogens (8.6%), amphetamines (6.1%), cocaine (3.6%), ecstasy (3.6%), opiates (3.7%) and steroids (1.8%). There were clear gender and age differences in the prevalence of illicit drug use: more males than females reported illicit drug use and the lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use increased with age. Most of those who reported illicit drug use had used drugs on relatively few occasions although there was a small minority of the sample who reported more frequent use. Finally, there were strong association between regular cannabis use and the use of other illicit drugs in the past year, and moderate associations between illicit drug use and the extent of both tobacco and alcohol use.
Conclusions: The findings of this, the first national survey of illicit drug use among Australian school students, indicate a high prevalence of illicit drug use. Comparisons with previous regionally based surveys suggest there may have been a recent increase in the prevalence of cannabis use and highlight the need for further monitoring of and prevention efforts aimed at reducing illicit drug use among students.