Historic survey to shed light on drug use

DRUG and alcohol treatments are on the rise in Australia, new research shows, but little real-time information is available about what drugs mainstream Australia is using, and how and why.

Fairfax Media, owner of The Sunday Age, is partnering with the Global Drugs Survey, created by Adam Winstock, a psychiatrist and researcher based in London, to help create the largest and most up-to-date snapshot of drug and alcohol use in Australia, and how we compare with others.

Dr Winstock said last year's survey, which 15,000 people filled out globally, including 500 from Australia, showed that, for many, drug use was characterised by confusion and dishonesty.

''People are appalled at knowing how their drug use compares to other people,'' he said.

''My favourite statistic from last year was 20 per cent of people who were alcohol dependent using the World Health Organisation screening tool thought their drinking was average or less than average.''

Nearly 40 per cent of people who had been asked about their drug use by their GP either lied and said they never used drugs, or downplayed their use. About 22 per cent of alcohol drinkers did the same.

The survey is being launched in Australia today, and will also be run in the US, in partnership with NBC, and in Britain with The Guardian, Mixmag and the Gay Times.

Dr Winstock said he created the project to capture a broader snapshot of drug use than is usually available.

''Most governments are interested in drug-use patterns among the sickest and most disadvantaged.

''But that represents a fraction of the people who use drugs,'' he said.

Results of the survey have been published in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet and Addiction, and have helped produce a project called the drugs meter, where people can find out how their drug use compares with that of others.

New research shows drug and alcohol treatments have increased in Australia over the past year, with alcohol the drug most likely to get people into trouble.

Almost half the drug treatment episodes in the 2010-11 financial year were for alcohol problems, according to data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

There were about 150,500 treatment sessions in that time, up from about 145,600 the year before.

You can take part in the global drugs survey over the next month by going to theage.com.au. The Australian results will be published exclusively by Fairfax early next year.

Drugs covered by the survey include cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis, ketamine, mephedrone, alcohol, tobacco, ''legal highs'' and prescription medicines such as temazepam and opioid painkillers. The survey is anonymous and secure, and takes about 20 to 25 minutes to complete.

The story Historic survey to shed light on drug use first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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