Drug Action Week

Dan Stapleton
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Image: Getty

Each year, Drug Action Week (22-28 June) aims to raise awareness of alcohol and other drug (AOD) issues affecting Australians, and to draw attention to the efforts of AOD workers in the health and community sectors.

According to the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), which organises Drug Action Week, there are more activities happening as part of this year's event than ever before. But as the success of Drug Action Week has grown, so has the problem it was set up the address. The ADCA says that drug use amongst Australians (especially the young) continues to increase, and that education and drug awareness is now more important than ever.

Unlike some sectors of the community, the ADCA and other organisations associated with Drug Action Week believe that education and harm minimisation, not a zero tolerance approach, should be used to treat Australia's current drug problems. Many drug-related deaths could be avoided, and the cost to the Australian health system greatly reduced, if the public was better educated. As a result, many of the events during Drug Action Week are focussed around group discussions and practical harm minimisation advice.

Do you know what drugs are the most commonly used in this country and what they do to health?

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia. While there are some potential health benefits linked to light consumption, its misuse continues to cause significant harm and enormous cost to the community. Alcohol kills more Australians under the age of 35 than any other drug, and the annual cost of alcohol-related absenteeism to the Australian economy is 7.5 million working days. Disturbingly, excessive alcohol consumption contributes to one third of all road deaths; half of all domestic, physical and sexual violence; and 80 percent of night-time assaults.

Although alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of Australian society, education surrounding its effects in schools and other forums is still scarce. The reluctance by many to view alcohol as a drug, as well as its continued acceptance in workplaces and by many areas of society, contributes to our levels of problem drinking.

Marijuana is the second most commonly used drug in Australia. Although the exact amount of marijuana smoked nationally is unknown, it is believed that the rate is comparable to the use of all other illicit drugs combined. Despite it being illegal, the drug is widely accepted by many Australian social groups. It is estimated that Australia's marijuana black market is worth more than $500 million per year.

Although marijuana users are rarely violent, continuing research has raised serious questions about the long-term mental health effects of using the drug — not to mention the respiratory diseases and other problems associated with smoking. This, combined with large increases in marijuana potency since it first came to prominence in the '60s, has led many health professionals to reconsider their views on the drug in recent years.

Although amphetamines, aka speed, have been available for many years, it is only recently that the drug class has become a major concern for Australian health professionals. The rise in popularity of an easily-smoked amphetamine, 'ice' — aka methamphetamine or crystal meth — has led to a dramatic increase in violent behaviour and mental health problems amongst those who use it (often recovering or current heroin addicts, or bored and under-educated teenagers).

The birth of rave culture in the late '80s saw a huge global increase in the popularity of ecstasy, aka MDMA. These days, so-called 'ecstasy pills' usually contain a suite of drugs, including methamphetamines and even domestic cleaning products, making them a risky proposition for users. Using pills, especially in combination with other drugs, can lead to unforseen health consequences. As a result, pill testing kits, which can accurately record the percentage of MDMA and others substances present in a pill, have become popular amongst users, and at nightclubs where ecstasy use is common.

If you or someone you know requires help with drugs or alchohol abuse visit Drug Action Week for more details and a round up on the week’s events.

Information on commonly used drugs and harm minimisation: druginfo.adf.org.au

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