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Prescription drug use among detainees: Prevalence, sources and links to crime

Concern regarding the diversion and non-medical use of prescription pharmaceuticals continues to grow as anecdotal evidence and other research points to a sizeable increase in the illegal market for such drugs. Estimating the prevalence of illegal use and understanding how pharmaceutical drugs come to be traded in the illegal drug market remain key research priorities for policymakers and practitioners in both the public health and law enforcement sectors.

This report was the first of its kind in Australia to examine the self-reported use of illicit pharmaceuticals among a sample of police detainees surveyed as part of the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program. In all, 986 detainees were interviewed, of which 19 percent reported having recently used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months—nearly five times as high as reported by the general Australian population, once again highlighting the value of conducting drug use research among criminal justice populations. In addition, this paper provides policymakers with valuable information about the reasons for use and the methods by which pharmaceuticals are typically accessed for non-medical purposes.

Funding agency


Project duration

January 2010 - December 2011


  • McGregor, C., Gately, N. & Fleming, J. (2011). Prescription drug use among detainees: Prevalence, sources and links to crime. Trends and Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice (No.423). Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.


Dr Natalie Gately
Ms Catherine McGregor
Ms Jennifer Fleming

In collaboration with WA Police, The Australian Institute of Criminology and The Mental Health Commission.

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