Australian Capital Territory Party Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Party Drug Initiative (PDI)

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Author: P. Proudfoot, J. Ward

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 188 (2004)


Demographic characteristics of party drug users (PDU)
The ACT PDU sample interviewed in 2003 was predominantly male and heterosexual. The majority of users were young, aged between their late teens and early twenties. PDU were well educated, few had contact with the legal system, and none had recent contact with drug treatment facilities. The majority of users were either employed, or undertaking tertiary study at the time of interview.

Patterns of drug use among PDU
Polydrug use was universal among the sample, with a mean of 10 drugs having ever been tried and 7 drugs having been used in the six months before interview. The majority of respondents typically used other drugs in combination with ecstasy (88%) and to facilitate the comedown (83%). The drugs most commonly used in conjunction with ecstasy and during the recovery phase from ecstasy use were tobacco, alcohol and cannabis. Binge activity in the preceding six months was reported by almost half (46%) the sample. Ecstasy was reported as a drug used in all recent binge episodes, and other drugs commonly used in this way were methamphetamine powder or ‘speed’, alcohol and cannabis.

Ecstasy was the drug of choice for more than half (56%) the PDU sample interviewed in 2003. The frequency of ecstasy use varied from monthly to more than weekly, and the median number of days of ecstasy use in the past six months was 12 (range 6 - 48). The majority (59%) of the sample used ecstasy on a monthly to fortnightly basis, and one third (33%) used between a fortnightly to weekly basis. In the six months prior to interview, the median number of ecstasy tablets taken by PDU in a ‘typical’ episode of use was 2, though this figure doubled to 4 when users referred to their heaviest sessions of ecstasy use. Over two-thirds (69%) of ecstasy users typically took more than one tablet each time they took ecstasy.

The preferred form of administration was oral (100%), though participants also reported having snorted (49%) and smoked (6%) ecstasy in the six months preceding interview. No respondent had ever injected ecstasy.

The median reported price for a tablet of ecstasy was $35, which was primarily purchased through friends and dealers. PDU reported ecstasy to be very easy to easy to obtain in the ACT. Reports of PDU regarding the purity of ecstasy were mixed, with the majority of respondents believing it to be ‘medium’, with similar proportions reporting purity as ‘high’ or ‘fluctuating’.

Methamphetamine is available in three forms: methamphetamine powder (‘speed’), methamphetamine base (‘base’) and methamphetamine crystal (‘ice’). Almost nine in ten PDU reported ever having tried speed, and approximately two-thirds reported use in the preceding six months. 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 administration. PDU reported using a quarter of a gram on a standard session of use and 0.8 of a gram in the heaviest sessions of use. Speed was a substance that was commonly used during binge sessions.

Base was not used as widely among the 2003 ACT PDU sample, with only 30% ever having tried it, and approximately one quarter reporting recent use. Similar to speed, the majority of base users had used the substance less than monthly in the past six months, with a median of three days of use. Swallowing was the most common form of administration, and two thirds of recent base users had snorted base in the preceding six months. The use of base was predominantly quantified by PDU in terms of ‘points’ (0.1 of a gram). The typical amount of base used was one point in a standard episode of use, and one and a half points in a heavy session of use.

Crystal methamphetamine was used by over half the sample in the preceding six months, and by almost three quarters of 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. Similar to base the use of crystal methamphetamine tended to be quantified in terms of points. One point was the standard amount taken in a ‘typical’ session of use, and this increased only slightly to 1.25 points in a heavy session. Almost half of the PDU reporting recent binge behaviour had used crystal methamphetamine during their binge sessions.

The median reported price for a point of speed and base was $40, with crystal methamphetamine slightly more expensive at $45 a point. The majority of PDU commenting on each form of methamphetamine reported that the price of speed and crystal methamphetamine had remained stable, and the price of base had fluctuated. The purity of each form of methamphetamine was reported to be medium to high by the majority of respondents, though a noticeably higher proportion of PDU reported the purity of crystal methamphetamine to be high when compared to speed and base. The majority of PDU commenting on speed and crystal methamphetamine reported the availability of each form to be moderately easy to easy to obtain in the ACT. Speed was reported by PDU to have remained stable or become more difficult to obtain, whereas the majority of PDU commenting on crystal methamphetamine reported it to be stable or easier to obtain. Due to the small numbers commenting, there was a lack of consistency between the reports of PDU commenting on the availability of base.

Almost half the PDU sample had tried cocaine, and approximately one quarter had used this substance in the six months prior to interview. Among those who had recently used in the ACT, use tended to be opportunistic and at low levels, with a median of one day of use. The amount of cocaine taken in a standard and also heavy period of use was half a gram, and the overwhelming majority of PDU who had used the substance recently had snorted it. The price of cocaine was reported to be stable at $250 a gram. The majority of PDU reporting on cocaine believed the purity to be stable at medium levels. Cocaine was reported to be difficult to obtain in the ACT, and this fact was reflected in the patterns of cocaine use among PDU.

Similar to cocaine, approximately half the sample reported ever having used ketamine, with one quarter having used it in the preceding six months. Ketamine was primarily quantified by PDU 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 pattern of ketamine use among recent users was infrequent, and the typical amount of ketamine used in an episode of use was 1.5 bumps, increasing to 2 bumps in a heavy session of use. Recent ketamine users reported snorting and swallowing ketamine in the preceding six months. The median price for ketamine remained stable at $25 a pill, or $30 a point. Purity also remained stable at medium to high levels, and the majority of PDU commenting on ketamine reported that it was difficult to obtain in the ACT.

Only a small proportion of the PDU sample reported lifetime and recent use of GHB. GHB was used on a median of three days in the preceding six months with almost all recent GHB users having used less than monthly during this period. The typical amount of GHB used in a standard episode of use was 28 millilitres, increasing slightly to 30 millilitres for the heaviest sessions of use. The median reported price for GHB was stable at $4 per millilitre. Due to the small sample sizes available, the data regarding GHB purity was difficult to interpret. However, all respondents reported that GHB was difficult or very difficult to obtain in the ACT.

Almost half the PDU sample had used LSD in the six months prior to interview, with 59% having tried it at some point during their life. The majority of recent LSD users reported using LSD less than monthly though a quarter of recent LSD users used on a monthly to fortnightly basis suggesting some degree of regular use among the sample. PDU typically used one tab of LSD in a standard session of use, and 2 tabs in the heaviest sessions of use. Over one quarter of PDU who had recently binged reported using LSD to do so. LSD was reported to be stable at $20 a tab. LSD was predominantly reported to be medium in purity, though the response to purity change was inconsistent. Although the response of PDU to LSD availability in the ACT was somewhat divided, these reports suggested that LSD is becoming easier to obtain in the ACT.

One third of the ACT sample reported the recent use of MDA, and over half the sample reported lifetime use of MDA. Most MDA users had used less than monthly during the past six months, and similar to LSD, one quarter of recent users had used on a monthly to fortnightly basis. The typical amount of MDA taken in a standard and heavy episode of use was 2 capsules. The price of MDA remained stable at $40 a cap. Four in ten recent users reported that the current purity of MDA was high, and the majority believed this to have remained stable. PDU were divided in their perception of the ease with which MDA could be obtained in the ACT, though in general the response of PDU suggested it had become more difficult to obtain in the preceding six months.

Criminal and Police Activity
With the exception of drug dealing, a minority of the PDU interviewed in 2003 had been involved in criminal activity, and very few had been arrested. For the majority of the sample, police activity towards party drug users was perceived as stable in the ACT. However, there were anecdotal reports from PDU and KI that there had been a recent increase in undercover police presence at ACT nightclubs and raves. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of users reported that recent police activity had not made it more difficult to score drugs.

The 2003 ACT PDI has revealed three areas of concern that warrant mention in relation to party drug use in the Territory. The first is the binge use of MDMA/ecstasy. Single high doses and frequent low doses of MDMA cause damage to serotonin neurones in animal studies and there is evidence to support an association between MDMA use and serotonin neuron damage in humans. Almost half of the sample reported using ecstasy at levels considered to be high risk in the light of this evidence. The second area of concern is the high level of excessive alcohol consumption in this group. Because of the stimulant qualities of ecstasy, high levels of alcohol are able to be consumed without significant intoxication. However, the usual deleterious effects of alcohol on the body would still occur, without the self-limiting, protective effect that increasing intoxication would bring with it. Finally, a third concern is the apparent switch from the less potent powder from of methamphetamine to the more potent crystal form. The results of the 2003 ACT PDI confirm that the use of crystal methamphetamine is associated with a number of harms. If crystal methamphetamine use increases among this group, it is expected that the problems usually associated with methamphetamine use (drug-induced psychosis, agitation and aggression, methamphetamine dependence) will also increase.

Citation: Proodfoot, P. and Ward, J. (2004) Australian Capital Territory Party Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Party Drug Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.