Australians just say no

Harry Clarke, the only economist in the country who consistently blogs on drugs (sorry Harry, couldn’t resist) posts on Australian drug use trends. It’s a fascinating read. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that usage of most drugs seems to be falling. Despite rising incomes and (in most cases) declining drug prices, consumption is falling. Perhaps those information/scare campaigns actually work after all?

[I suggested in an earlier draft of this post that we should credit law enforcement; but as commenter Andrew pointed out, this isn’t consistent with falling prices.]

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7 Responses to Australians just say no

  1. Kevin Cox says:


    I see no evidence that it has anything to do with law enforcement. If it had then why has cigarette and alcohol use dropped as well as “illegal” drugs. Perhaps it is due to people getting better and more appropriate information about drug use of all kinds.

  2. Andrew says:


    Price falls could be the result of demand being positively correlated with economic depression. It may be that people turn to drugs when times are bad. When incomes rise perhaps people do not need quite so much distraction from the daily grind. Hence given a constant supply, prices fall.

    If law enforcement had improved, then one might think supply would have been constricted, leading to higher prices given a constant demand.

    Great site, keep up the good work.

  3. ChrisPer says:

    I suggest that this is one of those areas that competing reasons mean outcomes are unpredictable when interventions are made.

    IMHO drugs as a whole are not a medicine for economic depression. Their use may relate to socialising, to maintaining addictions, or to competitive consumption for status display. Different drivers, different responses, and they are not constant even for an individual.

  4. Patrick says:

    Isn’t there a correlation generally between low incomes and drug use?

  5. hc says:

    Heroin prices are still much higher than pre-2000. There is a vast pile of evidence on the ‘heroin drought’ which to my mind strongly suggests that supply disruptions increase price and result in lower quantity demanded as with any non-addictive good. I can’t be bothered setting it out – just Goggle ‘heroin drought’.

    This suggests contrary to the views of the left-liberal intelligence, drug industry experts and those medical specialists who benefit from having lots of addicted users than police interdictions do work.

    There is some substitution towards cocaine, almost none to amphetamines/ice but a vast reduction in overdose deaths at the expense of some increased hospitalisations for amphetamine abuse.

    Links between new varieties of marijuana and psychosis and some evidence connecting smoking marijuana with lung cancer is getting through. 25% of admissions to addiction treatmentws centres are for dependemnce on marijuana. This stuff is definitely unsafe.

    Kids these days are not exposed to positive information about cigarettes since advertising banned.

    The message that excessive alcohol consumption is damaging is getting through.

    I talk to lots of kids who are very opposed to consumption of any drugs. Use of drugs is seem to mark you as a loser not as a with-it type of person. It is an important change in attitude.

    The only drugs I blog on these days Andrew are caffeine and golf both of which are addictive and both of which I regrettably still abuse.

  6. Pingback: Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » The decline of marijuana

  7. Tim Moore says:

    The apparent reduction in drug use may be right, but there are a few important things to note:

    1) The AIHW surveys people in stable housing situations, and so misses many who are using drugs and alcohol. This particularly matters for “harder” drugs – if you extrapolate the AIHW results for a drug like heroin then it does not even cover the people who appear in treatment or arrestees and prisoners who report recent heroin use.

    2) Changes to the survey design seem to matter a lot, so comparison with previous years should only be made after giving careful consideration to this. For example, “ever tried” a particular drug was changed to “ever used” between 1998 and 2001 (from memory) and that seem to matter for people’s responses. The increasing use of CATI may also be important: one thing I am a little concerned about from a quick look at the latest report is that nearly all types of drug use seem to be lower in this survey relative to the last. Which brings me to the next point…

    3) I think what is going on with ambulance usage. hospital attendance, and drug use amongst arrestees is more important and often more informative (certainly for drugs other than alcohol, marijuana and tobacco). Most of the costs come from a small number of people. I have been overseas for the past two years but I don’t think the reductions are across the board in the same way, certainly for methamphetamine. For an overview of Australian data sources, this is a starting point:


    I don’t think we have any good answer at present as to the effect of law enforcement, although it is plausible it was important in the reduction in heroin in 2001. I think economists can potentially contribute a lot in this area, with a lot of hard work of the kind not necessarily emphasised by the profession!

    Tim Moore

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