Young people are often symbolised by an image of binge drinking, drugs and music festivals - to the point where a Sydney Morning Herald headline last year claimed ‘up to 90 per cent of music fans use drugs’. While police are unlawfully strip-searching young people at music festivals based on these kinds of assumptions, recent statistics show that it’s actually Aussie parents who are increasing their drug use.
Australia has a survey called the National Drug Strategy Household Survey that is conducted every three years with over 22,000 Aussies participating in 2019. The survey asks people a range of questions, including what drugs they have used in the past year.
Over the past ten years, teenagers have become much less likely to report that they have used drugs. In fact, the percentage of teenagers using drugs has dropped by almost half. In 2001, 30 per cent of 14-19-year-olds had tried drugs, which by 2019 had decreased to 16 per cent. Despite this, police have been conducting intensive drug search operations at music festivals over recent years, mostly targeting the younger demographic that attend these events.
While the NSW police minister defends strip-searching minors, older Aussies may be the ones bumping up their use of illicit substances. Between 2001 and 2019, the number of Aussies aged 45 and above using drugs increased by 170 per cent.
As for drug of choice, weed seems to be the go-to, even for grandmas. Recent use of cannabis has been on the rise among people in their 50s and those aged 60 and over, reaching its highest level in 18 years in 2019.
So why are more Boomers dappling in drugs these days? Low birth rates and better health care means that Aussies are living longer, taking drugs longer and drinking longer. Having more disposable income than previous generations also makes these substances more affordable.
These statistics have caused concern among experts with older Aussies being categorised as a priority population in the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026. Using medication to manage pain, independent living and loneliness, declining health and losing loved ones are all factors that put older people at risk of problematic drug use.
While most people don’t develop problematic use, older age groups may find themselves facing more barriers when it comes to getting help. Health-care workers may be less likely to suspect substance use among older Aussies who themselves may be reluctant to ask for help in the first place due to stigma and lack of support.
This paints a different picture from the common narrative we hear about drug use being a young person’s issue. The reality is that nowadays, parents and even grandparents are more likely than teenagers to be using drugs. Let’s not forget that while a lot of treatment options are aimed at supporting young people, older Aussies might be able to use a helping hand from time to time as well.
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