ACT Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2004: Findings from the Party Drugs Initiative (PDI)

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Author: P. Proudfoot, J. Ward, K. Buckingham, R. Sparks

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 227 (2005)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Demographic characteristics of regular ecstasy users
The majority of regular ecstasy users (REU) interviewed in the ACT in 2004 for the PDI project were male. The sample was predominantly heterosexual and from an English speaking background. Most users were aged between their late teens and mid twenties. Approximately eight in ten participants interviewed for the study had completed high school, and at the time of the interview, the majority were either employed fulltime or studying at a tertiary level. A minority of the sample reported having contact with the criminal justice system, while none reported recent contact with drug treatment facilities.

Patterns of drug use among regular ecstasy users
In the 2004 ACT PDI sample, polydrug use was universal. Participants had tried a mean of 10 drugs in their lifetime, and a mean of 6 drugs in the six months prior to interview. Almost the entire sample indicated that they 'typically' used other drugs in combination with ecstasy and eight in ten used other drugs to facilitate the 'comedown' phase associated with ecstasy use. The drugs most commonly used in conjunction with ecstasy and during the recovery phase were alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. Approximately one third of the sample had binged on ecstasy and other related drugs in the past six months. The drugs most commonly reported to be used in recent binge episodes were ecstasy, methamphetamine powder, alcohol, cannabis and crystal methamphetamine.

Ecstasy
Ecstasy was the drug of choice for almost half (47%) the sample interviewed in the 2004 ACT PDI. In terms of the frequency of use, ecstasy use patterns varied among participants from monthly to more than weekly. In the six months prior to interview, the median number of days of ecstasy use was 14 (range 6 - 96). Almost half (47%) the sample used ecstasy on a monthly to less than fortnightly basis, one third (30%) used between a fortnightly to less than weekly basis, and one quarter (22%) had used ecstasy weekly or more. In the six months preceding interview, the median number of ecstasy tablets taken by REU in a 'typical' episode of use was two, and in the 'heaviest' session of use the median number of tablets used was three. Approximately two-thirds (67%) of participants typically took more than one tablet each time they had used ecstasy in the past six months.

As supported by KE reports, the dominant form of ecstasy administration was oral (96%), though participants also reported having snorted (65%), smoked (6%) and shelved (6%) ecstasy in the six months preceding interview. Six percent of the sample had ever injected ecstasy, and four percent had injected ecstasy in the past six months.

Price, purity and availability of ecstasy
The median reported price for a tablet of ecstasy remained stable at $35. In 2004, almost the entire sample reported that ecstasy was 'very easy' to 'easy' to obtain in the ACT and the most commonly reported sources were friends and dealers. The majority of REU reported the current purity of ecstasy to be 'medium' to 'high', and one quarter of the sample indicated that the purity of ecstasy had consistently fluctuated.

Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is available in three forms: methamphetamine powder ('speed'), methamphetamine base ('base') and methamphetamine crystal ('ice'). Approximately two thirds of the sample reported the recent use of speed and almost nine in ten REU reported ever having tried speed. As in 2003, recent speed users reported a median of four days of use in the six months prior to interview. Snorting, followed by swallowing, were the most common modes of speed administration, and small proportions of the sample reported having injected or smoked speed recently. In 2004 there was a significant decrease in the proportion of recent speed users who reported 'smoking' speed as a form of administration. REU reported using half a gram for both a 'typical' and the 'heaviest' episodes of use. Speed was used during 'binges' by almost half those participants reporting recent binge activity, and was commonly cited as a drug that REU
typically used in combination with ecstasy.

Base was not used as widely among the 2004 ACT REU sample as methamphetamine powder, with only 43% ever having tried it, and approximately one third reporting recent use. The majority of base users had used the substance infrequently (less than monthly) in the past six months, with a median of 2.5 days of use. Swallowing was the most common form of administration, and experimentation with snorting, smoking and injection were also reported. In 2004, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of recent base users who reported 'snorting' base in the past six months. The use of base was predominantly quantified by REU in terms of 'points'. The median amount of base used was one point for both a typical and the heaviest sessions of use. One in ten REU who reported that they typically used other drugs in combination with ecstasy, indicated that they used base methamphetamine in this way.

Crystal methamphetamine was used by over one third of the sample in the preceding six months, and by over half the sample at some stage during their lives. The majority of recent crystal methamphetamine users had used this substance relatively infrequently during the six months preceding interview, with a median of two days of use during this period. As was the case for base methamphetamine, the use of crystal methamphetamine tended to be quantified by REU in terms of 'points'. One point was the standard amount taken in both a 'typical' and the 'heaviest' sessions of use in the previous six months. Over one quarter of the REU who reported bingeing on ecstasy and related drugs in the six months prior to interview, had used crystal methamphetamine during these binges.

The median reported price for a point of speed was $30, base was $40 a point and crystal methamphetamine was slightly more expensive again at a median of $47.50 a point. The majority of REU commenting on each form of methamphetamine reported that the price of speed, base and crystal methamphetamine had remained stable in the preceding six months. The purity of each form of methamphetamine was reported to be medium to high by the majority of respondents. The majority of REU commenting on speed and crystal methamphetamine reported the availability of each form to be easy to very easy to obtain in the ACT.

Cocaine
Over two thirds of the REU sample had tried cocaine, and approximately one third reported the recent use of cocaine. Among those who had recently used in the ACT, the frequency of cocaine use was generally low, with a median of two days of use in the past six months. The amount of cocaine taken in a standard episode of use was half a gram, and this increased to three quarters of a gram for the heaviest sessions of cocaine use. Among the REU who had recently used cocaine, the dominant form of administration was snorting, although there was a significant increase in the proportion of recent cocaine users who reported swallowing as a form of administration. As in 2003, the price of cocaine was reported to be stable at $250 a gram. The majority of REU commenting on cocaine believed the purity to be stable to increasing at medium to high levels. The majority of REU believed the availability of cocaine to have remained stable in the preceding six months, although the reports of REU regarding the current availability of cocaine were mixed.

Ketamine
Approximately one third of the sample reported ever having used ketamine and a minority reported the recent use of ketamine. Ketamine use was primarily quantified by REU in terms of 'bumps' - a 'bump' refers to a small amount of powder typically measured and snorted from the end of a key, the corner of a plastic card, or a bumper (a small glass nasal inhaler). The frequency of ketamine use amongst REU was generally low with a median of two days of use in the preceding six months. The typical amount of ketamine used in a 'typical' episode of use was 1 bump, which increased to 2.5 bumps in the 'heaviest' session of use. Recent ketamine users reported snorting and swallowing as the most common modes of ketamine administration. The median reported price for ketamine in 2004 remained stable at $20 a pill. Ketamine purity was also reported by REU to have remained stable and to be high. The reports of REU in response to the availability of ketamine in the ACT were inconsistent.

GHB
A minority of the 2004 PDI sample reported lifetime and recent use of GHB. All recent GHB users had used GHB infrequently in the past six months with a median of one day of use in this period. The typical amount of GHB used was 15 millilitres for both the 'typical' and 'heaviest' sessions of use. Only one participant commented on the price, purity and availability of GHB in the ACT, therefore the results need to be interpreted with caution.

LSD
One in five REU had used LSD in the six months prior to interview, with 62% having tried it at some point during their life. In the 2004 ACT PDI, there was a significant reduction in the proportion of REU who reported the recent use of LSD. Over half of recent LSD users indicated they had used LSD on a median of one day in the past six months. REU typically used one tab of LSD in both a 'typical' and the 'heaviest' session of use. This year there was a significant reduction in the proportion of REU who reported using LSD whilst bingeing in the previous six months. The price of LSD was reported to be stable at $20 a tab. LSD was reported to be medium to high in purity, although the response of REU was inconsistent with regards to the change in purity of LSD. Although the response of REU to LSD availability in the ACT was somewhat divided, these reports suggested that LSD was becoming less easy to obtain in the ACT.

MDA
Almost half of the ACT sample reported the lifetime use of MDA, and fifteen percent (a significantly lower proportion when compared to 2003) reported the recent use of MDA. Almost all MDA users had used less than monthly during the past six months. The typical amount of MDA taken in a standard episode of use was one capsule, which increased to one and a half capsules in the heaviest episode of use. The price of MDA remained stable at $40 a cap. Half the participants commenting on MDA reported that the current purity of MDA was high, and the majority believed this to have remained stable. The response of REU suggested that MDA was easy to obtain in the ACT, and that this had remained the case over the previous six months.

Patterns of other drug use
Alcohol was used by almost the entire sample in the preceding six months. It was commonly used by REU in combination with ecstasy and to manage the 'comedown' or immediate residual effects of having used other drugs. Almost half of those REU who reported bingeing on ecstasy and other related drugs in the past six months, had also used alcohol during these binges. Consistent with KE reports, the use of both cannabis and tobacco was widespread among the PDI population, with cannabis being frequently used in the context of the ecstasy 'comedown'. Similar to the 2003 PDI sample, the use of benzodiazepines, antidepressants and other opiates was minimal in 2004. Inhalants such as amyl nitrate and nitrous oxide were used by approximately one in five REU in the past six months, although the frequency of use of these substances was generally low.

Criminal and Police Activity
In the 2004 PDI, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of the sample reporting they had recently been involved in criminal activity when compared to the previous year. A minority of the REU interviewed in 2004 had been involved in criminal activity, and very few had been arrested. For the majority of the sample, police activity towards ecstasy and other related drugs users in the ACT was perceived as stable. The overwhelming majority of users reported that recent police activity had not made it more difficult for them to score drugs in the past six months.

Implications
The 2004 ACT PDI highlighted a number of concerning issues that warrant mention in relation to the use of ecstasy and related drugs in the Territory. The first is the widespread pattern of multiple drug use in single episodes of use reported by this population. Specifically, a prominent issue of concern is the increasing prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption in the context of ecstasy use. This finding warrants attention given that when ecstasy and alcohol are consumed simultaneously, the usual deleterious effects of alcohol on the body still occur, without the protective effect that increasing alcohol intoxication normally brings with it. Finally, significant proportions of the sample this year reported having unsafe sex under the influence of ecstasy and related drugs. Given the tendency to have had multiple partners in the previous six months and the low frequency of condom use, this group appears to be at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Citation: Proudfoot, P., Ward, J., Buckingham, K and Sparks, R. (2005) ACT Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2004: Findings from the Party Drugs Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.