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NT Drug Trends 2004: Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS)

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Author: C. Moon

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 218 (2005)
This report presents the results of the 2004 Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) for the Northern Territory (NT). This is the sixth year that the IDRS has been conducted in the NT.
The IDRS is coordinated by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) which is part of the University of NSW. It is jointly funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (the Department) and by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF).
The IDRS combines data from a survey of injecting drug users (IDU), a survey of key experts and the collation of illicit drug related indicator data to monitor the price, purity and availability of a range of illicit drug classes and to identify emerging trends in illicit drug use and the illicit drug market.
IDU Sample characteristics
As in previous years the IDU sample was primarily male (75%), aged in the mid-thirties (mean=36 years), spoke English at home and was unemployed (83%). Seventeen percent of the sample identified as indigenous (compared to 13% in 2002), 49% had been in prison, and 20% were in treatment at the time of interview.
Drug use patterns
The five illicit drugs most commonly used by the IDU sample in the last six months remain unchanged from the previous year: morphine, cannabis, speed powder, benzodiazepines and methadone. Morphine use and injection among the IDU is higher this year than in previous years, with diverted MS Contin still the preferred form. Methamphetamine use is stable compared to 2003 and higher than earlier years. The proportion of the IDU that recently injected amphetamines continues to increase. The proportion using and injecting any form of methadone declined this year, although the illicit use and injection of methadone syrup increased. Notably, the use and injection of heroin among the IDU increased this year.
Summary of heroin trends
  • At a median of $50 per cap, the price of heroin is stable compared to last year.
  • Purity continues to be rated as low.
  • Occurrence of heroin use in the NT IDU sample has increased this year, reversing a declining trend seen over the last four years.
  • Availability continues to be limited, with heroin rated by most users as difficult to obtain. However, the proportion of users rating heroin as easy to get has increased, and some key experts report an increased presence.
Summary of methamphetamine trends
  • The median price of a gram of powder has increased from $100 in 2003 to $200 in 2003.
  • IDU and key experts continue to rate methamphetamines as easy or very easy to obtain, although less IDU rated crystal as easy to obtain compared to 2003 and more rated it as difficult.
  • Powder continues to be the most common and most frequently used form although base and crystal show small increases in use, continuing an increasing trend seen from previous years.
  • Recent methamphetamine use and injection remains high, with continuing increase in the proportions of IDU reporting injection.
  • Median days of use for all forms of methamphetamine has dropped this year compared to 2003.
Summary of cocaine trends
  • Cocaine use in the NT remains low with some indication that it’s presence and use has increased slightly in this year.
Summary of cannabis trends
  • The price of cannabis remains unchanged since 2003 at around $25 for a gram of any form, $300 for an ounce of the hydroponic form and $200 for an ounce of bush weed.
  • Cannabis continues to rated easy or very easy to obtain by both key experts and IDU.
  • The potency of cannabis is quoted as medium to high, as in previous years.
  • The number of separations from NT hospitals involving cannabinoids in 2004 shows a small increase from 2003 with a fluctuating but overall upward trend since 2999/00.
Summary of trends in opioid use
  • The price of morphine is stable at $50 for a 100mg tablet of MS Contin.
  • The proportion of the IDU reporting morphine as ‘very easy’ to obtain has increased.
  • The use of licit morphine among the IDU sample has dropped over the last three years and illicit use has increased.
  • Diverted MS Contin continues to be the primary injected opioid in Darwin.
  • Changes in the use and availability of morphine reported by IDU are consistent with key experts comment that the supply of morphine from licit prescription has reduced while the street supply has remained stable, resulting in more users obtaining their morphine from illicit sources.
  • The proportion of the IDU sample reporting recent use of some form of methadone declined this year compared to 2003, although the proportion reporting recent use and injection of illicit syrup has increased. Key experts attribute this to diversion from pharmacotherapy.
Summary of other drug trends
  • Recent use of ecstasy among the IDU has increased since 2003 and shows a fluctuating but overall increase since 2000.
  • Recent use of hallucinogens in the IDU has increased, reversing a declining trend seen since 2001.
  • Recent use of benzodiazepine in the IDU increased this year compared to 2003 and recent injection is stable.
  • Key experts report that benzodiazepine use continues to be closely associated with regular morphine use and may be increasing due to restrictions on morphine supply. Valium was the most used form.
  • Recent use of anti-depressants has increased markedly from 2003. All of the increase is accounted for by licit use.
  • The level of recent use of LSD has increased compared to 2003, reversing a declining trend.
Summary of trends in associated harms
  • Some injection related risk behaviours have increased, including borrowing of used needles and sharing mixing containers.
  • Selected injection related health problems increased among the IDU compared to 2003, particularly among those injecting benzodiazepines and methadone.
  • As in 2003 morphine injectors were more likely to report an injection related problem than benzodiazepine or methadone injectors but by a reduced margin.
  • IDU self-report, NT Police data and key expert opinion suggest an increase in selected crime types, specifically property crime and violence. Key experts link these increases to changes in morphine related prescribing practices.
Citation: Moon, C. (2005) NT Drug Trends 2004: Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.