Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies

With new data showing that one in five Australians have used an illicit drug in the past year and an increase in support for treatment rather than judicial responses, it is time to address drug use as a health issue and increase funding for community education, prevention, early intervention and treatment programs.

That’s the verdict from the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA), the peak organisation for the non-government drug and alcohol sector in NSW.

NADA recently welcomed the commencement of a new evidence-based diversion program for low-level drug offences, where people can access health programs or receive a fine rather than face criminal charges.

“Prevention and treatment are the direction that we need to be headed,” said NADA Chief Executive, Dr Robert Stirling said.

“Provided the NSW health system is properly resourced to support people who use drugs and alcohol, NSW’s Early Drug Diversion Initiative will provide thousands of people with an opportunity for treatment.

“For decades, international experience has shown helping people who use drugs access the support they need delivers far better health and wellbeing outcomes for both individuals and the broader community.

“Drug use needs to be treated as, and seen to be, a health issue. The time has come for us to shift the stigma around seeking help – because this ultimately prevents people seeking treatment and ultimately costs lives.”

The commencement of the Early Drug Diversion Initiative comes as new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows an increase in the number of Australians using illicit drugs.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2022–2023 found almost 1 in 5 Australians (3.9 million people) had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months, up from 3.4 million people in 2019.

The Survey found that almost 1 in 2 people (47%) had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, with cannabis the most used substance.

According to AIHW, use of illicit drugs among young women increased from 27% in 2019 to 35% in 2022–‍2023, while use of any illicit drug among men was 35% in both 2019 and 2022–‍2023.

“Increasingly, data from the annual National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows less support for prison sentences and law enforcement in response to illicit drug use, and more support for referral to a treatment or education program.

“As more Australians use drugs, there is a need to consult the wealth of evidence in this space pointing to the best ways to care for people who use drugs.

“The upcoming NSW Drug Summit is an opportunity to further re-set our approach to caring for people who use or have used drugs – and consider the physical, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing of the individuals, as well as their families and communities,” Dr Stirling said.

About NADA

The Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies (NADA) is the peak organisation for non-government drug and alcohol sector in NSW, representing 80 members who provide services in more than 100 locations across the state.

/Public Release.