Ecstasy use seems to be on the decline, although some regular ecstasy users appear to be turning to alternatives such as cocaine and synthetic chemicals, according to Australia’s largest drug monitoring system.
The 2010 Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) found that 56 per cent of regular ecstasy users reported low purity of ecstasy – twice as many as those reporting low purity last year. The number of users reporting the drug as difficult to obtain also doubled.
The findings are released today at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s (NDARC) National Drug Trends Conference in Sydney.
The number of those surveyed nominating ecstasy as drug of choice dropped from 42 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2010. The drops were biggest in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania (see key findings).
Across Australia nearly half of regular ecstasy users (REUs) reported also using cocaine, up from 39 per cent last year and nearly double the number using cocaine in 2003 when monitoring of drug use in nightclubs and festivals began.
Reported use of synthetic chemicals such as mephedrone have also emerged on the party scene in significant numbers in Victoria and Tasmania although frequency of use was sporadic. In Tasmania 42 per cent of regular ecstasy users reported use of mephedrone, as did 28 per cent in Victoria.
In NSW only four per cent of regular ecstasy users reported using mephedrone, but the state has the highest use of cocaine, with 59 per cent reporting use of the drug.
By contrast ice or crystal methamphetamine is now only used by 17 per cent of regular ecstasy users compared with 52 per cent when monitoring began in 2003.
Chief investigator of the EDRS, Dr Lucy Burns, said that while there are public health benefits in the decline in ecstasy use, which appears to be linked to the perceived decline in purity, there are also some new challenges, because some may be substituting with other drugs.
“The vast majority of regular ecstasy users are already known to be poly drug users,” said Dr Burns. “The risks involved are exacerbated when you are not certain as to the content of the tablet you are taking or you mix drugs that you are not familiar with.”
The rise in cocaine use which was reported last year in NSW is now found in other states and nationally.
“Cocaine use among recreational drug users is now at its highest since we began monitoring in 2003,” said Dr Burns. “Frequency of use remains low, however, with most users only reporting using cocaine two or three times in the six month reporting period.”
The emergence of synthetic chemicals such as mephedrone suggests a new addition to the nightclub and festival scene and people need to be cautious as we are not fully aware of the consequences of the drugs, she said.
Principal Investigator of the EDRS in Victoria, which has the second largest reported use of mephedrone, Associate Professor Paul Dietze advised that we need to carefully monitor its emergence on the party drug scene.
“It has been linked with major harms in other countries such as the UK and we should be working to prepare health workers to manage people under the influence of the drug,” said A/Prof Dietze.
He said that the trend towards increased use of cocaine and synthetic chemicals would appear to indicate how markets for different drugs in the party scene complement each other.
“With the ecstasy market changing in terms of quality and availability, people seek out alternative drugs suited to their activities, such as stimulants like cocaine and newer drugs such as mephedrone.”
- Nationally 56 per cent of regular ecstasy users reported low purity;
- Lowest purity was reported in South Australia ( 75 per cent); Victoria ( 65 per cent) and Queensland (60 per cent);
- 26 per cent of users reported ecstasy as difficult or very difficult to obtain – up from 13 per cent last year;
- Nationally 37 per cent of regular ecstasy users nominated ecstasy as drug of choice – down from 42 per cent in 2009; 31 per cent in Victoria (down from 42 per cent); 32 per cent in NSW (down from 44 per cent); 37 per cent in Tasmania (down from 56 per cent);
- Weekly or greater use of ecstasy fell from 30 per cent to 23 per cent;
- Nationally 48 per cent of REU reported cocaine use – with use highest in NSW ( 59 per cent); Victoria (54 per cent – up from 48 per cent) and ACT (58 per cent – up from 44 per cent);
- The use of the synthetic stimulant, mephedrone, showed up in the survey in significant numbers for the first time in Victoria ( 28 reports) and Tasmania ( 42 reports) but was only reported by four users in NSW;
- Ice use increase slightly in most jurisdictions but overall only 17 per cent of regular ecstasy users use ice compared with 52 per cent in 2003; frequency of use remained low;
- Speed powder was the most common methamphetamine used;
- The hallucinogen LSD was reportedly used by 38 per cent of those surveyed, with use highest in Victoria (49 per cent); NSW (44 per cent); and ACT (41 per cent);
- The use of the synthetic “psychedelic “ stimulant DMT was reported by 15 users in Victoria and about half that number in NSW and Tasmania;
- The average age of participants in the survey was 24 with around 40 per cent working or studying full time; nearly half were tertiary educated;
- 44 per cent of ecstasy users reported taking it in nightclubs and 30 per cent took it at private parties or at their own or a friend's home;
- Frequency of reported ecstasy use has remained stable since 2003, with most users reporting taking it about once a fortnight;
- Cocaine was reported to only be used an average of three times over a six month period;
- Majority of users (60 per cent) reported cocaine as easy or very easy to obtain.
- Twenty per cent of respondents reported having sex with three to five casual partners during the previous six months;
- More than a third said that they rarely or never used protection while having sex with a casual partner;
- More than 40 per cent reported that they had not been tested for an STD over the previous two years;
- 38 per cent of users found themselves in at risk situations after taking an illicit drug;
- 34 per cent found drugs interfered with responsibilities at home, work or school;
- More than half reported driving after taking an illicit drug;
- 70 per cent reported driving while over the alcohol limit.
About the EDRS
- The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System has been monitoring trends in ecstasy and related drug use in Australia since 2003;
- It is the largest and most robust monitoring system in the country;
- It is designed to serve as a strategic surveillance system on emerging drug trends and usage
- patterns to provide robust evidence to direct the development of policy and clinical practice;
- The EDRS interviews 693 regular ecstasy users in all Australian states and territories;
- It is NOT a representative sample of ecstasy and related drug use in the general community;
- Drugs studied are those routinely used in entertainment venues including nightclubs, dance parties, pubs and music festivals;
- Drugs investigated include ecstasy (MDMA); methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, Ketamine, MDA and GHB.
Details of media briefing:
What: National Drug Trends Conference
When: October 15 2010
Where: Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, Sydney, NSW