Indicators of Drug Use


The concept of an indicator of ‘drug abuse’ is that it can potentially “provide comparable, scientifically based estimates of the extent of the more severe patterns of drug use that cannot be reliably measured by surveys. This information is useful for assessing treatment needs, and offers a realistic basis for estimating the social costs of drug problems, for example drug-related crime.” 

Source: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction (Statistical Bulletin 2007).

In Australia, by the mid 1980s there was growing awareness that the lack of national system of standardised indicators hampered monitoring of trends and consequence involving alcohol, licit drugs, as well as illicit drugs. This shortcoming also limited review of effectiveness of treatment, the impact law enforcement strategies and prevention policies.

In the early 1970s the WA Hospital Morbidity Data System (HMDS) was developed to collate hospital admission data, which used the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Deaths (ICD), to classify and code the principal and underlying conditions associated with an episode of inpatient treatment at a hospital.

From 1971 to 1978 ICD-8 was used and in 1979 the Ninth Revision, ICD-9, was implemented. This data had a number of important uses over and beyond patient care, such as the quantification of the costs of hospital care and improvements in allocation of scarce resources.

Click here to view or download an early report, Inpatient hospital morbidity in Western Australia 1971 to 1981, which outlines the development of the HMDS and contains an analysis of the inpatient hospital data for WA for the period. [2.4MB]

Of relevance, the HMDS data could also serve as an indicator of health-related harm by quantifying the direct impact from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs on health and well-being and to also identify indirect causes of hospitalisation, such as the contribution of alcohol to accidents and injuries.

The establishment of a national system to collect and analyse statistical data and to provide government with reliable information concerning the use of alcohol and other drugs was an outcome from the Special Premiers’ Conference on Drugs held in Canberra in April 1985. This was convened by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke and resulted in the establishment of the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA), renamed the National Drug Strategy (NDS) in 1993. 

Click here for the Communique of the Special Premiers’ Conference. 

As a result of the NCADA the Commonwealth government funded the establishment in each jurisdiction of a separate agency specifically concerned with the coordination and collection of uniform statistics , as part of a national statistical agency.  

Overview – WA

The Western Australian Drug Data Collection Unit (WADDCU) was established as a result of the NCADA arrangement and commenced in 1988 to undertake the collection and publication of compilations of indicators of alcohol and other drug use, for local as well as national purposes.

The WADDCU was located in the Epidemiology Branch of the Health Department of WA (HDWA) until June 1994, when Commonwealth funding ceased and it was absorbed into the Epidemiology Branch of the HDWA.

Over the period of the WADDCU’s operation a variety of publications had been developed, some of which have been in the form of compendia of a collection of cross-sectoral indicators, whereas others were concerned with a specific type of indicator, such as mortality, arrests, utilisation of services, etc.

Some of these publications were produced on an ongoing basis as annual updates, whereas others were concerned with a specific issue. There were shortcomings with some of these indicators, such as that they were in different formats, involved different time series, had varying levels of detail.

With cessation in 1994 of the WADDCU, the compilation of a compendium of indicator reports in WA ceased, although a number of subsequent parliamentary and official inquiries sometimes included more comprehensive sets of indicator data, as described below.

The WADDCU produced a number of compilations of indictors of drug use. The title of these reports changed a number of times, depending on whether or not the rationale for publication of data was narrowly defined as concerned with indicators of illicit drug abuse, or reflected a broad perspective, that encompassed the use of both licit and illicit drugs. 

WA: Indicators of drug use (1981 – 1992)

A total of five compendia of indicators were published by the WADDCU –

  • Indicators of illicit drug abuse in Western Australia, 1981 – 1987 [885k]
  • Indicators of illicit drug use in Western Australia, 1981 – 1988 [903k]
  • Indicators of illicit drug use in Western Australia, 1981 – 1989 [2.8MB
  • Indicators of drug abuse in Western Australia, 1981 – 1990 [5.8MB
  • Indicators of drug use in Western Australia, 1982 – 1992 [8MB]

WA: Indicators of drug use (1982 – 1994)

An update for the period up to 1994 was published as specific chapters in Volume 2 of the final report of the Task Force on Drug Abuse published in 1995 –

Chapter 5: Law enforcement data
Charges for drug offences (1985-1994), drug seizures (1985-1994), convictions for drug offences (1985-1993) & imprisonment (1982-1992)

Chapter 6: Injecting drug use
Notifications of registered addicts (1982-1994), HIV notifications (1983-1994) & distribution of needles & syringes

Chapter 7: Prevalence
Prevalence data from surveys of drug use by young people

Chapter 8: Treatment services
Participation in methadone treatment, Court Diversion Service (1988-1994), sobering up centres (1990-1994), attendances at residential treatment programs (2988-1994) & alcohol and drug related telephone calls (1986-1994)

Chapter 9: Alcohol related indicators
Prevalence surveys, alcohol sales (1986/1987-1993/1994), per capita alcohol consumption (1967/1968-1993/1994), hospitalisation due to alcohol-related injuries (1981-1992), admissions for alcohol related illness (1982-1992), alcohol related mental illnesses (1982-1993) alcohol related mortality (1982-1993)

Chapter 11: Other drugs
Cannabis, opiates, psychostimulants, volatile substances, designer drugs and pharmaceutical drugs

Click here to view or download a PDF copy of Volume 2 [1.6MB].

WA: Indicators of drug abuse (2001)

The WADASO published a compilation of indicators in a one-off report published in 2001, as WA Drug Strategy Occasional Paper No. 4. This report contained indicators of time series data for –

  • crime statistics and law enforcement
  • public health measures
  • morbidity
  • mortality
  • drug-related phone calls
  • licit drugs
  • illicit drugs
  • treatment services

Click here to view or download a PDF copy of this report [5.6MB].