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The 1990 Survey of Drugs in New Zealand

Researchers: Steven Black, Sally Casswell
Research report: Drugs in New Zealand: A Survey 1990

The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit has conducted a number of regional and national surveys of the population to gather information which can be used to make comparisons between consumption patterns and problems in New Zealand and overseas, and to provide information for health service providers, educators, and government policy-makers.

Reported here are the results of a 1990 survey investigating drug use. A total of 5116 people were interviewed by telephone about their use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs. The survey comprised two random samples, one metropolitan (Auckland) and one rural/provincial (Bay of Plenty).

Summary of findings

Alcohol and tobacco were the most commonly used drugs. Earlier surveys had shown that alcohol use was highest among young men and the pattern was repeated in this survey. Among tobacco users, young women were now showing the highest rates of use for any age group of either sex.

Although 43% of those interviewed had tried marijuana, the majority had not continued to use it on a regular basis. Only 12% were current users. Most who had tried marijuana had done so for the first time at a young age, below 20. Current regular users tended to be male and young.

Those who used marijuana tended to do so in groups in private homes. Most users obtained most if not all of their marijuana for free. The pattern was one of casual procurement and free sharing among groups of smokers. Only 9% of current users grew their own marijuana and 4% of these did so only rarely.

Multiple drug use

Multiple drug use was more likely to involve tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, than other drugs. Alcohol used with marijuana was the most common combination. Only 35% of marijuana users said they hardly ever or never used alcohol at the same time.

In keeping with their different levels of use, alcohol-related problems such as lack of energy and financial worries were more commonly reported than marijuana-related ones. However, a small group of heavy marijuana users reported a high level of problems related to both drugs.

About one in five of the people surveyed believed that trying cigarettes or marijuana once or twice was very risky. Smoking tobacco regularly was seen as risky by 84% of those interviewed. This was a higher proportion than those who felt that smoking marijuana regularly involved considerable risk (75%).

The survey found low levels in the use of other drugs, such as LSD, stimulants, cocaine, and opiates. The most frequently reported specific drug was LSD, which had been tried by 6% of respondents. Solvents had been tried by less than 1% of the sample, including about 2% of 15-19 year olds.

Most people who used marijuana used no other illegal drugs. There is a low overall incidence of multiple drug use in New Zealand.

Community concern

Community concern about drug use was highest for solvents and for illegal drugs other than marijuana. Alcohol was rated the next most serious problem, then tobacco and, except amongst the very young, people were least concerned about marijuana use.

The current level of enforcement for those caught with marijuana for their own use was judged to be 'about right' by about one third of the respondents, and 'too heavy' or 'too light' by about one quarter each. Levels of enforcement for selling marijuana, and using or selling other illegal drugs, were judged to be too light by the majority of respondents.

The levels of cannabis and other illegal drug use indicated by this New Zealand survey were similar to those found in Australia. However, with the exception of cannabis and LSD, levels of illegal drug use in New Zealand were lower than in the United States.

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Women and Drugs

Researchers: Sally Abel, Allan Wyllie, Sally Caswell
Research report: The Primary Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Problems Amongst Women: A Literature Review. 1992

In 1992 the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit undertook a review of the literature on the primary prevention of alcohol and other drug-related problems amongst women. This was initiated and funded by the Alcohol Advisory Council and the Aotearoa Women's Consultancy Group on Alcohol and Other Drugs.

The review drew on both published and unpublished material and covered alcohol, tobacco, prescribed psychotropic drugs and illicit drugs. The review concluded that in general, the prevention of drug use problems amongst women is best achieved through the use of broad social policy measures to improve the socioeconomic position and status of women, the use of structural approaches which have shown promise for reducing substance-related problems in the general population, and the use of education strategies aimed at very clearly described subgroups of women.

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