Background and aims
Stigmatisation of illicit drug use is known to discourage people from reporting their use of illicit drugs. In the context of Australia's two recent “ice-epidemics” this study examines whether rapid increases in community concern about meth/amphetamine concurrent with increased stigmatising media reporting about meth/amphetamine “epidemics” are associated with increased under-reporting of its use in population surveys.
We examined the relationship between general population trends in self-reported lifetime use of and attitudes towards meth/amphetamine between 2001 and 2013, contextualised against related stimulants and heroin, using five waves of Australia's National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), alongside trends in print media reporting on meth/amphetamine from 2001 to 2014.
Analysis of NDSHS data showed significant increases in community concern about meth/amphetamine between 2004 and 2007, and 2010 and 2013 in all birth cohorts and age groups. In both periods self-reported lifetime use of meth/amphetamine fell in many birth cohorts. The falls were only statistically significant in the first period, for birth cohorts from 1961–1963 to 1973–1975. Falls in lifetime use within a cohort from one period to the next are incongruous and we did not observe them in the other drugs considered. Equally, increases in concern were specific to meth/amphetamine. We counted substantial and rapid increase in the number of newspaper reports about meth/amphetamine in both periods, particularly reports including the term ‘epidemic’.
Rapid increases in the quantum of media reporting stigmatising a drug (through its construction as an ‘epidemic’) accompanying increased general public concerns about the drug may increase the tendency to under-report lifetime use. This may make it difficult to rely upon household surveys to observe trends in patterns of use and suggests that policy makers, media and others in the AOD sector should avoid stigmatisation of drugs, particularly during periods of heightened concern.
- General population surveys