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The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS, formerly the Party Drugs Initiative, or PDI) arose out of the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS). The EDRS is a study that acts as a strategic early warning system for trends and issues emerging from illicit drug markets in Australia. The data collected examines the price, purity and availability of four primary illicit drug classes – ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine and cannabis as well as niche market drugs such as GHB and LSD – and are used to supplement other data, such as key expert (KE) reports and indicator data, thus providing a multifaceted approach to the task of monitoring the Australian ecstasy and related drug (ERD) market. Regular ecstasy users (REU) have been identified as a sentinel group of ERD users and are able to provide the required information on patterns of use, market characteristics, related harms and other issues associated with ERD use. KE include nightclub owners, treatment providers and law enforcement personnel.
Demographic characteristics of REU
In 2011 two-thirds of the REU interviewed for the ACT EDRS were male (66%) and, similar to last year, most participants were aged between their late teens to early twenties. Consistent with previous years, the majority of REU interviewed were from an English-speaking background (ESB), and predominantly heterosexual. The majority of the sample had completed 12 years of schooling, and at the time of interview the majority of REU were either studying at a tertiary level or employed full-time. A minority of the sample reported currently accessing a drug treatment facility. KE reports are generally consistent with REU demographics.
Patterns of drug use among REU
A minority of the sample (9%) reported ever having injected a drug. In 2011, there was a decrease relative to 2010 in the proportion of REU reporting ecstasy as their drug of choice. There was an increase in the proportion of participants reporting both alcohol and cocaine as their drug of choice, compared to 2010. Polydrug use was commonly reported by REU, consistent with KE interviews.
Forty percent of the sample reported having ‘binged’ (used continuously for 48 hours or more) on ecstasy and other drugs in the six months prior to interview. Other drugs commonly used in these binge episodes were alcohol, cannabis, methamphetamine powder, LSD, cocaine and mushrooms. Table 1 summarises the use, price, purity and availability of ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, cannabis and LSD.
Ecstasy pills were the most commonly used form of ecstasy by REU. Smaller proportions of the sample reported having used ecstasy capsules in the past six months (39%) and ecstasy powder (23%). In the six months prior to interview, the median number of days of any form of ecstasy use was 14, stable from 2010. Almost half (48%) of the sample reported using ecstasy on a monthly to fortnightly basis in the past six months, 33% of the sample reported using ecstasy on a fortnightly to weekly basis, with a further 20% reporting greater than weekly use. The median number of ecstasy tablets consumed in a typical session of use was two, whereas a median of four tablets were taken by REU in the heaviest session of use.
Price, purity and availability of ecstasy
The median reported price for a tablet of ecstasy increased to $30 in 2011 from $25 in 2010. The current purity of ecstasy was reported by REU to be high (53%) or to fluctuate (28%). There was a significant increase in the proportion of REU reporting purity to be high compared to 2010. There was also a corresponding increase (51% in 2011 compared to 6% in 2010) in the proportion of respondents reporting that purity had increased in the past six months. With respect to availability, the majority of the sample reported that ecstasy was very easy to easy to obtain in the ACT.
Ecstasy markets and patterns of purchasing
In the six months prior to interview, REU had purchased ecstasy from a median of three people. Participants indicated that when purchasing ecstasy they typically bought it for themselves and others, and they typically purchased a median of five pills on each purchase occasion.
Methamphetamine is available in three forms: methamphetamine powder (speed), methamphetamine base (base) and methamphetamine crystal (crystal). Just over half (51%) of REU reported having used at least one form of methamphetamine in the past six months (a decrease from 78% in 2010).
The majority (78%) of participants reported ever having used speed and 50% reported having recently used speed. Recent speed users reported a median of five days of use in the six months prior to interview. Swallowing and snorting were the main routes of administration (ROA) reported by recent speed users. The amount of speed used by REU in a typical session was 0.6 grams and one gram in the heaviest episode of recent speed use. Speed was used during binges by more than half (53%) of the REU who reported recently having binged on ERD.
Base methamphetamine had ever been used by 24% of REU, with 10% of the 2011 sample reporting having used base in the previous six months. A median of five days of use in the six months prior to interview was reported. Swallowing was the most common (75%) ROA reported by base users.
Crystal methamphetamine had been used by almost a quarter (23%) of the sample and by 9% of the sample in the past six months. Recent crystal users reported a median of five days (range=1-5) of crystal use in the past six months.
Methamphetamine price, purity and availability
In 2011, the median price for speed remained stable at $200 per gram. Only small numbers (n<10) were able to comment on the price of a point of speed. The reported price for a point of base was $23 and $225 for a gram. However, only small numbers of REU were able to comment (n<10). The median price for a point of crystal increased from $70 in 2010 to $80 in 2010 (n<10). Reports of the purity of speed varied whilst base was reported to be of high purity. Only small numbers were able to comment on the purity of crystal. The availability of speed was reported to be very easy to easy and reports of the availability of base varied. Small numbers were able to comment on the purity of crystal.
Seventy-six percent of the 2011 EDRS sample had ever tried cocaine, and 43% of the sample reported using cocaine in the previous six months (a decrease from 58% in 2010). Those REU who had recently used cocaine had used the substance on a median of four days in the preceding six months. Snorting remained the most common ROA, followed by swallowing. The median amount of cocaine used in a typical episode of use was half a gram, which increased to one gram when referring to the heaviest episode of use.
The median price for a gram of cocaine remained stable in 2011 at $300 per gram. Purity was reported to be medium to low whilst reports of cocaine availability varied.
Lifetime cannabis use was almost universal among REU and 89% had used cannabis in the six months preceding interview. Median days of use increased to approximately twice per week (from once per week in 2010). Eighteen percent of respondents reported daily use of cannabis. Smoking was almost universal, and 35% reported that they had swallowed cannabis in the preceding six months. Three-quarters (75%) of those who reported that they had binged in the preceding six months reported that they had used cannabis.
The median price for a gram and an ounce of hydroponic cannabis was $20 and $280 respectively, and the median price for a gram and an ounce of bush cannabis was $15 and $200 respectively. The majority reported that the prices for both forms had remained stable in the six months preceding interview. The current potency of hydroponic cannabis was reported to be medium to high, while current potency was reported to be medium for bush cannabis. Both hydroponic and bush cannabis were reported to be very easy to easy to obtain, similar to 2010.
Almost two-thirds (60%) of the 2010 EDRS sample reported lifetime use of LSD, with 39% reporting recent use. LSD was used on a median of four days in the preceding six months. REU had used a median of one tab of LSD in a typical session and two tabs during the heaviest sessions of recent use. One-fifth (20%) of participants who reported having recently binged on ERD had used LSD during these binge episodes.
The median price for a tab of LSD remained stable at $20. The majority of respondents estimated the current purity of LSD to be medium. The majority of respondents also reported that the current availability of LSD was easy to very easy to obtain.
Patterns of other drug use
Almost the entire sample had used alcohol in the six months prior to interview. Alcohol was consumed on a median of two days per week. Fourteen percent of respondents reported that alcohol was their drug of choice. The use of tobacco was also common in the EDRS population, with 86% reporting recent use of tobacco. Recent use of the following substances was also commonly reported: mushrooms (46%), benzodiazepines (33%), amyl nitrate (28%), nitrous oxide (24%) and ketamine (14%).
Over one-third (36%) of the sample reported ever having a stimulant overdose and 90% of those had done so in the preceding 12 months. The main drug the stimulant overdose was attributed to was ecstasy. Thirty-nine percent reported overdosing on a depressant drug, with 87% of those participants reporting that the overdose had occurred within the past 12 months. The most common drug attributed to the overdose was alcohol.
Over half (54%) of the sample self-reported experiencing risk-related problems as a result of their drug use. Forty-one percent of respondents reported experiencing responsibility-related problems and 26% reported experiencing reoccurring relationship/social problems as a result of their drug use. Seven percent reported experiencing legal problems as a result of their drug use. The main drugs that were nominated as the most common drugs that problems were attributable to were alcohol, ecstasy and cannabis.
Thirty percent of participants reported that they had experienced a mental health problem in the preceding six months. Among this group, depression and anxiety were most commonly reported. Almost one-third (29%) of participants scored in the high or very high range on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10), a scale measuring level of distress and severity of psychological symptoms.
Eight percent of REU reported ever having injected a drug, a decrease from 23% in 2010. The median age of first injection was 18. No recent injectors reported using needles after someone else in the past six months; however, three participants reported using equipment such as spoons/mixing containers, water and tourniquets after someone in the preceding six months.
Blood-borne viral infections
In 2011, EDRS participants were asked about vaccination, testing and diagnosis of blood-borne viral infections. Of those that responded 59% had never been tested for hepatitis C and 68% had never been tested for HIV. Five percent of respondents indicated that they had received a positive diagnosis for any sexually transmitted infection.
The majority (63%) of REU reported having had casual penetrative sex in the six months prior to interview. Twenty-eight percent of casually sexually active REU reported not using a protective barrier on their last occasion of casual sex. The majority (92%) casually sexually active REU reported having sex while under the influence of ecstasy and/or related drugs in the past six months.
The majority (64%) of those REU who indicated they had driven a car in the past six months reported that they had done so while under the influence of alcohol and, of those, 76% (n=34) reported that they had driven whilst over the legal blood alcohol limit. Three-quarters (73%) of those REU who had driven a car in the past six months had driven under the influence of an illicit drug. Cannabis and ecstasy were the most common illicit drugs that REU reported driving under the influence of.
In the 2011 EDRS, REU were administered the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Using this measure, 80% of respondents scored eight or above, indicating alcohol intake that is possibly hazardous. Seventeen percent of respondents scored in Zone 4 of the AUDIT, indicating the need for evaluation for possible alcohol dependence. KE reported that alcohol use was common amongst REU and that binge drinking was frequent.
Criminal activity, policing and market changes
Forty-three percent of the 2011 EDRS sample reported having engaged in some form of criminal activity in the month prior to interview. One-quarter (25%) of all respondents reported dealing for cash profit in the last month and 22% reported committing property crime in the previous month.