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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 1582 ..

Mr Pratt: There has been a 38 per cent increase in 16-year-old girls using needles. Do not tell me that is not alarming!

MS TUCKER: I will get to the 38 per cent spin, if you listen, Mr Pratt.

The results in the report show that, with regard to alcohol, there is little difference in the proportion of students in 1999 who reported ever having tried alcohol. There was a small increase from 1996 for both males and females who reported consuming alcohol in the past week. Yes, there was a small increase there.

The tobacco comparisons with 1996 indicated a 3.6 per cent drop in the proportion of students reporting to have ever tried smoking-that is, a decrease. Figures on students who had smoked tobacco in the previous week were similar, not increased.

On illicit drugs, there was a decrease of almost 6 per cent-not an increase-in the proportion of students who had ever tried an illicit drug. That decrease is largely associated with a decrease in the use of cannabis. With regard to recent use, there was a slight decrease-not an increase. That is not statistically significant-it is certainly not a huge increase. There was an increase in the use of illicit drugs by males between the ages of 12 and 17 years.

For students reporting having tried cannabis at least once, there was a significant decrease-not an increase-of 6.3 per cent since 1996. There was a modest decrease of 3 per cent reporting recent use of cannabis. With inhalants, there was little difference in either lifetime use or recent use since 1996. That is not an increase, it is about the same. Tranquilliser use was also about the same.

Similar use was also reported of other illicit drugs-that is, similar use, not a big increase-such as hallucinogens, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and steroids. Needle use was also about the same, although there were slightly more students who reported ever using a needle after someone else. That is a public health issue, which is obviously of concern.

I notice that, in media releases Mr Pratt has put out, he has focused on the use of needles. He is concerned about what he calls the 38 per cent upswing in the number of girls aged 16 who admitted using needles. The 38 per cent upswing is not reported in that way in the report-it is reported in the summary on needle use as a similar result. Statistically, that is not a big increase, but a similar result. It is not a 38 per cent upswing from the 1996 study, when 1.8 per cent of females reported having used a needle to inject an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime. The 1999 figure was 2.7 per cent. Mr Pratt has chosen to make that into a 38 per cent upswing. It is a great example of how statistics can be used to create a selective view of a situation.

It is not that I am not concerned about needle use, but let us be clear about the scale of the change here. If we really want to look at the whole picture, we have to acknowledge drug-related harm. I will quote from the basic background papers of the national drug strategy. It says that the licit drugs-tobacco and alcohol-accounted for over 96 per cent of drug-related deaths and hospitalisations. The estimated direct health care cost of drug dependence and harmful use in Australia, in 1992, was $1 billion; $833 million for tobacco; $145 million for alcohol, and $43 million for illicit drugs.

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