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Does perception of drug-related harm change with age? A cross-sectional online survey of young and older people

06 Nov 2018

Objectives

To investigate how young and older people perceive the harms associated with legal and illegal drugs.

Design

Cross-sectional study: adults aged 18–24 years versus 45+ completed an online survey ranking the perceived harms associated with 11 drugs on 16 drug-related harm criteria.

Setting

Online survey.

Participants

184 participants aged 18–24 years (113 female: mean age 21: SD 1.3) and 91 participants aged 45+ (51 female: mean age 60: SD 8.5).

Main outcome measures

‘Perception of drug-related harms’: This was measured using a rating scale ranging from 1 (no risk of harm) to 4 (high risk of harm). Participants were also asked about sources which informed their perception on drug-related harms as well as their own personal self-reported drug experiences.

Results

Of the illegal drugs, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine were rated as the most harmful and cannabis was rated as the least harmful. Alcohol and tobacco were also rated as less harmful. The results showed that perceptions of drug-related harms were inconsistent with current knowledge from research on drugs. Furthermore, perceptions on drug harms were more conservative in the 45+ group for a number of illegal drugs and tobacco. However, the 45+ age group did not perceive alcohol as any more harmful than the younger group.

Conclusions

This survey demonstrates that the greatest misperception was in relation to alcohol-related harms which did not change with age. In order to minimise harms, this misperception needs to be addressed through education and policies that legislate drug use.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open