The number of people using illicit drugs in western Victoria has increased 50 per cent over the past three years.
One in five people aged over 14 admitted to using illicit drugs over the past 12 months in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019.
The survey, carried out every three years, found illicit drug use in the Western Victoria Primary Health Network increased from 14.1 per cent in 2016, to 21.6 per cent in 2019 with marijuana/cannabis the most commonly used drug across the country, followed by cocaine and ecstasy.
The region's illicit drug use was much higher than the national average for similar inner regional areas which was just 14.9 per cent.
The survey also revealed a concerning increase in binge drinking with one in three people admitting to drinking more than four standard drinks at least once a month - almost four per cent higher than in 2016.
More than 22,000 people took part in the national survey, which found the further Australians live from major cities, the more likely they are to smoke daily and drink alcohol at risky levels.
Western Victoria's smoking rate was 11 per cent, down from 11.6 in the 2016 survey and the same as the national average.
But one in five people drink at risky levels - the equivalent of two or more standard drinks every day.
"Australians living in regional and remote areas often have poorer health outcomes than people living in big cities," said AIHW spokesperson Dr Gabrielle Phillips.
"Understanding patterns of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use in regional areas can help inform effective policy development and ensure that efforts will benefit those most at risk of harm, marginalisation and disadvantage."
But she pointed out that rates of some alcohol and drug use might have changed since the survey, which was taken last year before the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic which has changed the drinking habits of many Australians.
In April, local experts expressed concern that people having an extra glass or two of alcohol each day to deal with the stress of isolation, working from home or home schooling during the first lockdown period could be at risk of developing a drinking problem.
Alcohol was the most commonly used drug in Australia, with about three quarters of Australians reporting they consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months, but the figure was even higher in western Victoria where just 14.4 per cent said they abstained from alcohol - fewer than 2016.
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The high cost of cigarettes has contributed to a drop in the smoking rate in recent years. "Smoking rates have more than halved since 1991 when almost one quarter (24 per cent) of Australians were daily smokers," Dr Phillips said.
"The daily smoking rate was 12.2 per cent in 2016 and 11 per cent in 2019. More smokers said the cost of smoking was motivating them to quit or cut back - 58 per cent in 2019 compared with 52 per cent in 2016."
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