FactCheck Q&A: are rates of drug use 2.5 times higher among unemployed people than employed people?

Social Services Minister Christian Porter, speaking on Q&A. Q&A

The Conversation fact-checks claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9.35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.


Excerpt from Q&A, June 5, 2017. Quote begins at 4:04.

… We absolutely know that rates of drug use amongst unemployed are 2.5 times higher than amongst employed people. – Social Services Minister Christian Porter, speaking on Q&A, June 5, 2017.

The 2017-18 federal budget introduced a random drug testing trial for recipients of the Newstart Allowance for job-seekers and Youth Allowance in three locations. During a discussion of the measure on Q&A, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said “rates of drug use amongst unemployed are 2.5 times higher than amongst employed people”.

Is that right?

Checking the source

Asked for sources to support his statement, a spokesperson for Christian Porter confirmed the minister was referring to illicit drugs, and directed The Conversation to page 84 of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

The relevant finding reads:

Use of illicit drugs in the past 12 months was more prevalent among the unemployed, with people who were unemployed being 1.6 times more likely to use cannabis, 2.4 times more likely to use meth/amphetamine and 1.8 times more likely to use ecstasy than employed people.

Collecting data on employment status and drug use

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey quoted by the minister’s spokesperson is a reliable and comprehensive dataset.

The federal government has conducted the survey every three years since 1998. It is currently conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a federal government agency. The survey collects data on drug use and drug-related issues in the Australian population.

The first findings of the 2016 survey were released on June 1 this year, but those results didn’t include detailed employment data. The latest employment-level data is from 2013, when the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare collected information from almost 24,000 people across Australia.

The 2013 survey asked questions about people’s use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare defines “illicit drugs” as “illegal drugs, drugs and volatile substances used illicitly, and pharmaceuticals used for non-medical purposes”. So that’s the definition used in this FactCheck. You can read the full list of drugs included here.

Recent drug use among employed and unemployed people

The data below is based on the number of employed and unemployed people aged 14 and over who said they had used the drugs listed at least once in the 12 months prior to the 2013 survey.

Compared to employed people, unemployed people were 1.5 times more likely to have used an illicit drug. They were:

  • 1.4 times more likely to have used cocaine;

  • 1.6 times more likely to have used pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes;

  • 1.6 times more likely to have used cannabis;

  • 1.8 times more likely to have used ecstasy; and

  • 2.4 times more likely to have used methamphetamine (for example, ice and speed).

So, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, Porter’s statement that drug use among unemployed people is 2.5 times higher than among employed people is a selective use of the data. It’s true for methamphetamine use, but not for other types of drugs, or illicit use of drugs overall.

The most commonly used illicit drug among unemployed people was cannabis, which had been used by 18.5% of that population in the previous 12 months. Methamphetamine had been used by 5.6% of the unemployed population in that period.

In the 12 months prior to the 2013 survey, 24.5% of unemployed people had used illicit drugs, compared to 16.8% of employed people.

Other trends in illicit drug use

According to the data, a larger proportion of unemployed people had never used illicit drugs (55.5%) compared to employed people (48.8%).

While people who were unemployed were less likely to have ever used illicit drugs, those who did were 1.4 to 2.4 times more likely to have used them in the previous 12 months.

Overall, unemployed people were 1.5 times more likely than employed people to have taken an illicit drug in the the previous 12 months.

Verdict

Christian Porter’s statement that “rates of drug use amongst unemployed are 2.5 times higher than amongst employed people” was incorrect.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data showed unemployed people were 1.5 times more likely than employed people to have used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

The figure Porter quoted relates to methamphetamine, which unemployed people were 2.4 times more likely than employed people to have used in the past 12 months. – Nicole Lee

Review

I agree with this FactCheck. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has the most appropriate and up-to-date statistics on drug use by Australians with the most recent data on this particular issue being for 2013.

I have checked the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data. The data show the unemployed had been recent drug users at a higher rate than employed people in the year leading up to the 2013 survey. But overall this was at a rate a bit less than 1.5 times that of the employed, not 2.5 times as Christian Porter said on Q&A. – Peter Whiteford


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