We've gathered together some important data, to help give an overview of how New Zealanders use drugs.
Alcohol and other drugs have been used by people throughout history, and New Zealand is no different. At least 44 percent of adults will try an illicit drug at some point in their lives, and 93 percent will try alcohol.
People use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons – recreation, spiritual discovery, performance enhancement, peer pressure, or to medicate physical or emotional pain. Most people who use substances don’t experience long-lasting negative effects. However, a small percentage do. The harm they experience can be wide-ranging, from injury and disease, through to social, financial and legal problems. It can also affect whānau, friends and the wider community.
About 50,000 people receive support for alcohol and other drug use each year in New Zealand – and that’s estimated to be only a third of those experiencing problems. The current legal prohibition of some drugs in New Zealand also means that we spend a great deal on enforcement – including Police, courts and prison beds.
$ Estimated annual social cost of illicit drug-related harm
Almost 80 percent of New Zealand’s adult population report drinking alcohol at least once in the last year, and around 20 percent drink in a way that risks physical or mental harm. To work out whether your drinking is harmful check out this online tool.
Fourteen percent of New Zealanders are current smokers. Māori are disproportionately represented, with 34 percent being current smokers. Like alcohol and other drugs, smoking harm is most sharply felt by those already suffering socio-economic deprivation.
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug used in New Zealand
Fifteen percent of adults used cannabis in the past year, and 8.5 percent, or 330,000 adults, smoke cannabis monthly. Use is higher in Māori, young people and those in more deprived neighbourhoods.
Methamphetamine use has remained relatively stable in the past 5 years, but some communities face more harm
It’s widely believed that methamphetamine (‘P’) use is growing in New Zealand. However, overall numbers of people using amphetamines (including methamphetamine) have remained relatively stable in the past 5 years, at around 1 percent of the population.
It’s hard to determine how accurate these figures are, because official surveys don’t include populations that have higher rates of drug use, such as people who are in insecure housing or in prison. It’s fair to say that while overall usage remains low, methamphetamine has become a serious concern in some communities.
Use of other illicit drugs is relatively low in New Zealand
The last published Ministry of Health survey on illicit drug use was done over a decade ago in 2007/08. It found that use of other drugs such as LSD, and opiates was not widespread. More recent figures from 2012/13 showed fewer than 3% of New Zealanders had used ecstasy in the past year.
Use of alcohol and other drugs in New Zealand teenagers is declining, particularly for drinking and smoking. However, in 2012, around 10 percent of secondary school students used substances at a level likely to cause them significant harm.
Six percent of 15 to 17 year olds drink in a way that risks physical or mental harm. While 13 percent of secondary school students used cannabis in 2012, only 3 percent used weekly. Use of other drugs was much less common, especially methamphetamine, LSD and heroin with fewer than 1 percent using in the past year.
While not all drug use is harmful, drug harm costs New Zealand a lot of money. The social cost of drug-related harm was estimated to cost New Zealand $1.8 billion in 2014/15. The social cost includes harms to an individual’s health, whānau, friends and the wider community.
The Government spends around $350 million each year addressing drug-related issues. Most of this money is spent on enforcement, rather than treatment.
The Government’s Drug Harm Index 2016 estimates yearly expenditure by government agencies on drug-related issues as follows:
|Government agency||Expenditure in $million|
|Ministry of Health||78.3|
|Courts and Corrections||170|
The 2020 election date is set, so NZers will have a chance to replace cannabis prohibition with a health model
Recommendations in the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group’s new report offer a way forward to treat drugs as a health issue.
The 2019 State of the Nation report provides a snapshot of available data on how NZ deals with drugs. Release November 2019.
The Wellbeing Budget should see improved access to addiction treatment. It will take time, but in the meantime let's celebrate!
Back to top