NDARC Technical Report No. 278
REU demographic and polydrug use characteristics
The demographic characteristics of regular ecstasy users were consistent with previous years: mainly male (57%), a minority of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders (8%), mainly employed (51%) and having some secondary school (mean number of 11 years at school).
This year’s sample was, however, slightly older (mean age of 29 years compared to 24 in 2004 and 2005), more likely to have had a previous conviction (24%) and slightly more likely to be in drug treatment (12%).
Ecstasy (37%), cannabis (16%) and alcohol (12%) were the REU sample’s preferred drugs, consistent with previous years.
As in 2004 and 2005, approximately one third of the sample (39%) had injected a drug in their lifetime, speed (65%) and heroin (20%) being the first drugs injected among this group.
Recent polydrug use was the norm among the regular ecstasy users interviewed in all years, with this year a median of 6 drug classes being used by REU in the six months before interview.
A large proportion of REU reported recent use of alcohol (88%), cannabis (84%), tobacco (86%), and methamphetamines (67%).
Again this year, other drugs typically seen as ‘ecstasy-related drugs’ (cocaine, MDA, ketamine and GHB) showed a low incidence of recent use.
This year’s sample of regular ecstasy users started to use ecstasy at a median of 18 years and began using it regularly when they were 21. Patterns of regular use show some changes compared to 2005: the proportion using ecstasy weekly or more declined from 52% to 33%; the quantity usually used in a session increased from 1 tablet to 2; and the proportion reporting ecstasy as their preferred drug dropped from 61% to 37%.
Consistent with previous years, most of the sample used other drugs with ecstasy (98%) and whilst coming down from ecstasy (84%).
Cannabis, alcohol and tobacco were the main other drugs used with, and while coming down from, ecstasy, with the majority of REU since 2004 drinking alcohol at hazardous levels in these circumstances.
Over the last three years routes of administering ecstasy have remained stable, with swallowing continuing to be the most popular method (96% this year), followed by snorting (49%) and injecting (12%).
In 2004 nightclubs were the most popular usual and last ecstasy use venue, and this pattern continues in 2005.
The price of ecstasy has been stable for the last three years at $50 per tablet.
Regular ecstasy users, as in prior years, rated ecstasy as ‘easy’ (35%) or ‘very easy’ (45%) to obtain.
In 2006 REU purchased, on average, four tablets from three sources, buying for themselves and others, between 7 and 24 times in the past six months. Ecstasy was usually scored from friends (78%) at a friend’s home (59%).
Ninety-four percent of REU perceived at least one benefit in the use of ecstasy, mainly enhanced mood (44%) and enhanced communication (38%). A larger proportion this year (21%) than in 2004 or 2005 perceive ecstasy having a different effect to alcohol as a benefit.
Eighty-eight percent of REU perceived risks in the use of ecstasy, mainly dehydration (33%), unknown drug contaminants or cutting agents (20%) and unknown long-term harm (20%).
In 2006 the majority of the sample had used speed (59%, 73% in 2005) in the past six months and substantial proportions had used crystal (26%, 32% in 2005) and base (18%, 29% in 2005).
The average age for speed powder initiation remained consistent with previous years at 19 years old; mean initiation age for base increased slightly from 20 to 22 years and the mean initiation age for crystal increased substantially from 20 to 26 years.
The proportions of REU reporting weekly or more often use decreased for all methamphetamine types compared to 2005: from 27% to 7% for speed; from 17% to 11% for base; from 8% to zero for crystal. Consistent with this, median days of use for all types also declined.
Recent bingeing with speed increased 2 percentage points to 43% among recent speed users; recent bingeing with base declined from 33% in 2005 to 22% this year; and recent bingeing with crystal increased from 19% to 23%.
Among recent crystal users, injection and smoking were the most often reported routes of administration. These routes have shown a steady increase since 2004 at the expense of swallowing, which has declined. Swallowing remained the most reported route of administration for speed and base.
Twenty-four percent of this year’s REU sample had used pharmaceutical stimulants within six months prior to interview. Median days of use declined from 6 days in 2005 to 3 days and no one reported using pharmaceutical stimulants on a weekly or more often basis. The amounts used in typical and heavy sessions increased to 5 tablets and 7 tablets respectively. A majority of the recent users swallowed pharmaceutical stimulants, with 17% injecting.
The median point prices of speed ($50) and crystal ($80) were the same as those found in 2005; the median point price of base increased slightly from $75 to $80.
When commenting on the availability of methamphetamine the most frequently nominated categories were: easy for speed; very easy for base; and difficult for crystal. Scoring source and location patterns for recent speed users were largely unchanged from 2005 although recent users were more likely to score in their own or a friend’s home and less likely to score in a dealer’s home than was the case in 2005.
In the current year, lifetime cocaine use increased to 55% and recent use was stable at 10%. Among those that recently used, cocaine use was infrequent with a median of three days use in the preceding six months, unchanged from 2005. Typical and heavy session use quantities were lower this year (0.5 grams and 1 gram respectively) than in 2005 (2 grams and 3.5).
The proportions of recent cocaine users snorting has increased over the past three years from 64% in 2004 to 100% this year, while the proportions injecting have declined from 36% to 11%.
The median price for a gram of cocaine declined from the $375 reported in 2005 to $275 this year, although only 2 respondents were able to comment.
The small number of REU able to comment rated current cocaine purity as medium to high, and availability as difficult to very difficult.
There is no indication that health - or law enforcement - related harms have increased.
The proportion of REU reporting recent ketamine use was lower this year, at 6%, than in the previous two years, 7% in 2005 and 18% in 2004.
The reported median days of use in the last six months increased to 6, although among a very small number of respondents.
Frequency and quantity of ketamine use was stable.
The price of ketamine was reported by one REU to be $50 per gram.
Ketamine purity was rated by one REU as high and availability as difficult.
No REU reported recent GHB or GBL use this year. Key experts report that GHB is ‘pretty rare’ in Darwin.
Recent use of LSD increased from 15% in 2005 to 41% this year. Recent LSD users reported using 1 tab in a typical session, unchanged from 2005. Twenty six
percent, compared to 33% in 2005, usually used more than this amount.
Swallowing was the only route of administration reported by recent LSD users; no recent LSD users reported injecting LSD.
Bingeing with LSD amongst recent users declined from 25% in 2005 to 10% in 2006.
LSD was most commonly used in a person’s home at a private party or ‘outdoors’.
Recent users reported a median price of $20 for a tab, a decrease on the $25 found in 2005.
In 2006 higher proportions nominated LSD’s current purity as medium (53%) and less as high (32%) compared to 2005.
Recent users this year were more likely to rate LSD as easy (74%, 44% in 2005) or very easy (11%, 6% in 2005) to obtain. In 2006 LSD was typically scored from a friend (88%), at home (56%) or at a friend’s home (50%).
The number of REU reporting recent use and market characteristics has declined from 7 in 2004 to 2 in 2005 to 1 this year, suggesting that MDA is rarely seen in the NT and conclusions about MDA cannot be drawn.
This year one REU reported the following MDA use and market characteristics:
- typically using 3 capsules in a session;
- MDA costs $50 a capsule;
- MDA is easy to obtain.
Eighty-six percent of this year’s REU had used cannabis within six months prior to interview, similar to the proportions found in previous years. Frequency of use had declined from a median of 150 days in the last six months to 90 days, although the proportion of REU reporting recent binging with cannabis increased from 29% to 35%.
Hydroponic cannabis was priced by REU at $25 a gram and $300 an ounce; bush cannabis was priced at $25 a gram and $200 an ounce. The price of both these forms of cannabis was reported to have been stable over the preceding six months.
Hydroponic cannabis was generally rated as being of high potency (63%) and very easy (53%) or easy (30%) to obtain. Bush cannabis was rated as being of medium (72%) potency and either very easy (36%) or difficult (46%) to obtain.
Both forms of cannabis were mainly scored from friends (73% and 82% respectively) in a friend’s home (69% and 82%).
The rate of inpatient hospital admissions where cannabis was involved in the primary diagnosis increased from 2003/04 into 2004/05 and episodes in AOD treatment services where cannabis was a drug of concern increased from 2004/05 into 2005/06.
Other drug use
Most of the REU sample (88%) had used alcohol within six months of interview, two-thirds of this group had drunk more than 5 standard drinks while using ecstasy, and 49% had drunk more than 5 standard drinks while coming down from ecstasy. Seventy-seven percent of REU returned an AUDIT score indicative of hazardous or harmful alcohol use. Key expert comment was generally inconsistent with this result, down-playing regular ecstasy users’ alcohol use.
Recent tobacco use remained common at 86% of the REU sample and consistent with key expert reports.
The proportion of REU reporting recent use of benzodiazepines increased from 17% lat year to 29% this year.
Recent heroin use remained low.
Consistent with key expert reports, inhalant use was low (10% of the REU sample) and infrequent (2 days in the last six months).
Recent methadone use remained low (4%) as did recent buprenorphine use (8%). Key experts suggested that methadone and buprenorphine use would typically be licit use as a part of drug treatment.
Recent use of other opiates increased this year in the REU sample to 22% and the frequency of use increased to a median of 26 days in the last six months. Anti-depressant use and hallucinogenic mushroom use remained low.
One REU reported recent use of DMT and one key expert reported hearing of a stimulant called ‘cow’.
Drug information-seeking behaviour
Twenty percent (20%) of the sample would always find out about the content and purity of other party drugs before taking them, and 20% would do the same before taking ecstasy. Forty percent of the sample would never find out about the content and purity of other party drugs before taking them and 33% would never find out about the content and purity of ecstasy.
The most common ways of finding out about the content/purity of ecstasy was through friends who had already taken it (97%) and through dealers (56%). Two participants had used testing kits sometimes.Eighty percent (71%) of the sample advised that the ecstasy they bought had a different content to what they expected at least sometimes. Respondents thought that testing kits (53%) and a local website (43%) would be useful drug information resources.
Minorities of the REU sample agreed with statements that using ecstasy (30%) or selling ecstasy (30%) should be legal.
Over one-third (39%) of the sample had ever injected a drug, using a median of five different drugs in 2006 (38%) and a median of three drugs in 2005). Twenty-seven percent of REU reported recent injecting, down slightly from the 29% in 2005. Speed (50%) and other opiates (45%) were the most common recently injected drug this year. Recent injecting of all forms of methamphetamine shows a decline at the expense of an increase in the recent injecting of other opiates.
Speed was the first drug injected by 65% of the REU sample.
Most injectors had learnt to inject from a friend or partner and half had first injected under the influence of drugs, most commonly alcohol and cannabis.
Most recent injectors (86%) injected themselves. No recent injectors reported borrowing or lending used needles. Recent injectors reported usually injecting in their own home (86%) or a friend’s home (36%). Fourteen percent usually injected in a dealer’s home or a car. The majority of recent injectors had been tested for HCV and HIV and half (50%) had been vaccinated against HBV.
Almost all REU (82%) had penetrative sex in the prior six months with between one and five partners. The majority never used a protective barrier with regular partners (57%) but always used condoms with casual partners (67%). A high proportion (81%) had sex under the influence of drugs, most commonly ecstasy
(82%), alcohol (50%) and cannabis (38%).
In the last six months, a majority of the sample (56%) had driven over the limit of alcohol or within one hour of taking drugs (77%), most commonly ecstasy and cannabis.
Only one REU reported overdosing within six months of interview, a considerable drop on the 20% found in 2005. Fifty-one percent of respondents scored in the medium or high range of psychological distress as measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale. Sixteen percent (15% in 2005) of the 2006 sample had accessed a health or medical service (most commonly GPs) in the past six months in relation to their ecstasy and related drug use.
The proportions of the REU sample experiencing drug-related problems declined this year, in some cases slightly, in all categories of problem: 28% experienced a work/study problem; 31% a financial problem; and 26% a relationship or social problem. Work/study problems were mainly attributed to alcohol or cannabis use (29% in each case), financial problems to ecstasy use (69%) and relationship or social problems to alcohol use (42%). Ecstasy was also seen to contribute to work/study problems (21%) and relationship or social problems (33%).
Key experts reported similar patterns of mental health and treatment-seeking behaviour to those seen in previous years.
Criminal and police activity
The level of criminal activity engaged in by the REU sample within a month of interview was consistent with last year at 16%, mainly involving drug dealing (12%).
The proportion of REU that had been arrested in the previous 12 months was consistent with previous years at 14%.
About half of the REU sample (49%) and most key experts were unaware of any changes in police activity towards regular ecstasy users. Most REU (77%) thought that police activity did not make scoring ecstasy any more difficult.
A third (34%) of the 2005 sample believed that ‘new things’ were happening in the ecstasy and related drug markets, focusing on a general increase in the use of ecstasy and related drugs, including a greater presence of methamphetamine and LSD.