NDARC Technical Report No. 185 (2004)
Demographic characteristics of party drug users (PDU)
The 2003 PDU sample consists of regular and current ‘party drug users’ who are typically aged in their mid twenties (mean = 25.34 years), well educated (50% have completed courses post school) and are employed either full/part-time or are students (80%). Few have a prison history (4%) and relatively few (11%) report having been arrested in the past twelve months.
Overall, financial problems (41%) were the most common problem experienced by PDU in 2003, however females most commonly reported experiencing social problems (44%). Fewer than one in ten PDU (9%) reported legal problems, although legal problems were reported more often by males (14%) than females (4%).
Patterns of drug use among PDU
The prevalence of lifetime and recent use of almost all drug classes examined in the 2003 PDI was lower in 2003 than in 2001, and for some drugs lower than amongst the 2000 PDU sample.
In comparison with the 2000 and 2001 PDU samples, the 2003 PDU sample first used ecstasy at an older age (median = 20.68 years), but started using regularly in a shorter period of time (median = 21.80 years).
PDU in the 2003 sample typically used ecstasy about once a week (median = 24 days in six months) in both public (nightclub) and private (home) settings. In a typical session PDU consumed 1.5 tabs of ecstasy, however females typically used smaller quantities than males (1 tab vs 2 tabs). The main route of administration of ecstasy in 2003 continued to be swallowing (91%). While females reported consuming fewer tabs than males, there was little difference between males and females in the proportion reporting going for 48 hours or more without sleep (41% vs 44%). Twenty-nine per cent of PDU reported that they last used ecstasy in a nightclub, however a further 19% reported last using ecstasy at a friend’s home and a further 18% reported last using ‘at home’.
In 2003 PDU reported that the people they most commonly ‘scored’ ecstasy from were friends (73%) and dealers (71%). Friends’ homes (57%) and dealers’ homes (55%) were the two most common locations at which ecstasy was obtained. The proportion of PDU scoring from friends decreased from 94% in 2000, to 93% in 2001 to 75% in 2003, whilst the proportion scoring from dealers increased from 56% in 2000, to 57% in 2001 to 71% in 2003. The proportion of PDU scoring at friends’ homes decreased from 94% in 2000, to 93% in 2001 to 73% in 2003. Scoring from dealers’ homes decreased from 46% in 2000 to 41% in 2001 but increased to 55% in 2003.
In 2003 the PDU sample reported that an ecstasy tab typically cost $35 (range: $16.50 - $50) and that this price had remained relatively stable over the previous six months. Almost half of the 2003 PDU sample believed that ecstasy purity was currently medium, however a further 29% believed that it was fluctuating. Thirty-nine percent of PDU reported that ecstasy purity/strength had remained stable in the last six months however again, a further 31% reported that it had been fluctuating. Despite some disagreement with regard to the purity of ecstasy, the vast majority of PDU in 2003 reported that ecstasy was easy or very easy to obtain (84%).
The main side effects experienced by PDU in relation to ecstasy use were loss of appetite (74%), trouble sleeping (68%) and blurred vision (65%). Females were more likely to report loss of appetite and trouble sleeping whilst males were more likely to report double vision and profuse sweating.
Fewer PDU in 2003 than 2001 reported having ever or recently used methamphetamines. The proportion of PDU reporting lifetime use of: methamphetamine powder declined from 86% in 2001 to 67% in 2003; methamphetamine base declined from 84% in 2001 to 43% in 2003; crystal methamphetamine declined from 68% in 2001 to 49% in 2003. Similarly, the proportion of PDU reporting recent use of: methamphetamine powder declined from 67% in 2001 to 57% in 2003; methamphetamine base declined from 76% in 2001 to 34% in 2003; and crystal methamphetamine declined from 56% in 2001 to 38% in 2003.
There was also a slight decline in the median number of days on which methamphetamine was reported to be used in the last six months. The median days used in the last six months decreased from nine days in 2001 to six days in 2003 for methamphetamine powder; from seven days to six days for methamphetamine base; and from five days to four days of use in the last six months, for crystal methamphetamine. Over the same period of time, however, the average quantity of methamphetamine being used remained the same, except for crystal methamphetamine, where an increase from a median of 0.5 points (2001) to 1 point (2003) was recorded.
The 2003 PDI also recorded a trend towards the smoking of methamphetamine. Whilst the most common routes of recent methamphetamine powder administration in 2003 were swallowing (38%) and snorting (27%), the proportion of PDU reporting having smoked methamphetamine powder recently increased. In 2000, 20% of PDU reported having ever smoked methamphetamine powder and 4% had recently used this route of administration, whereas in 2003 22% of PDU reported having ever smoked methamphetamine powder and 11% had done so recently. Similarly, the most common routes for the recent administration of crystal methamphetamine in 2003 were smoking (24%) and swallowing (20%). In 2001, 8% of the 2001 PDU sample reported having ever smoked crystal methamphetamine and 5% reported smoking crystal methamphetamine recently, whereas in 2003, 29% of PDU reported having ever smoked crystal methamphetamine and 24% reported recent smoking of crystal methamphetamine.
According to the 2003 PDU sample the median price for a gram of methamphetamine was $200 and the median price for a point was $35 ($40 for ice). PDU in 2003 perceived that the price has remained stable in the last six months. Methamphetamine users were generally in agreement that the current purity of methamphetamine was high (powder: 36%, base: 48%, ice: 57%) and that the purity/strength of methamphetamine in the last six months had been stable. Almost two thirds (64%) of those who had recently used powder, over two thirds (68%) of those who recently used base and over half (57%) of those who had recently used ice reported their current availability as being either easy or very easy; however PDU reported that while ease of access to methamphetamine powder (54%) and methamphetamine base (63%) have remained stable in the last six months, ease of access to crystal methamphetamine has increased: 36% of ice users reported that their access had remained stable, and a further 30% reported that it had recently become easier.
Methamphetamine powder was the most common methamphetamine with which users associated adverse physical effects. The most common adverse physical effects from using methamphetamine powder were loss of appetite (40%) and trouble sleeping (39%). In comparison, relatively few methamphetamine base or ice users reported adverse physical effects associated with their use. Methamphetamine powder was the most common methamphetamine with which users associated adverse psychological effects, particularly confusion (25%) and agitation/restlessness (24%). In comparison, relatively few methamphetamine base or ice users report adverse physical effects.
Financial problems were the most common problem associated with methamphetamine use by PDU. Seventeen percent of PDU associated their financial problems with their use of methamphetamine powder, 12% with their use of methamphetamine base and seven per cent with their use of crystal methamphetamine.
Cocaine use was not common amongst the 2003 PDU sample. Whilst over a third of the 2003 PDU sample reported having ever used cocaine, only 18% reported that they had used cocaine in the last six months. There was little agreement amongst participants with regard to the price, purity or availability of cocaine. Nevertheless, 44% of PDU indicated that they believed there were risks associated with cocaine use.
Ketamine use was not common amongst the 2003 PDU sample. Twenty-seven percent of the PDU sample reported lifetime use of ketamine, and 14% reported that they had used ketamine recently The proportion of PDU reporting recent use of ketamine increased from 9% in 2001. Although in both 2001 and 2003 PDU reported using ketamine on a median of only 2 days in the last six months, the average quantity being consumed increased from 0 bumps in 2001 to 1 bump in 2003. There was little agreement among PDU with regard to the price, purity or availability of ketamine, and over half (56%) of the PDU sample did not know whether there were any risks associated with ketamine use.
Lifetime and recent use of GHB was uncommon amongst the 2003 PDU sample. In 2003 13% of PDU reported having ever used GHB and 6% reported having used GHB recently. Few PDU were able to comment on the price, purity and availability of GHB. Over half (57%) of the 2003 PDU sample did not know whether there were any risks associated with using GHB.
Amongst the 2003 PDU, 41% reported ever using LSD, and 18% reported doing so recently. This represents a decrease from 2001 when 38% of the PDU sample reported recent use of LSD. The median reported price for an LSD tab in 2003 was $30, however there was little agreement with regard to LSD purity/strength. Half (50%) of the 2003 PDU sample believed that there were risks associated with using LSD, however over a third did not know of any risks associated with using LSD.
In 2003, almost a quarter of the PDU sample reported ever using MDA, and 18% reported using MDA recently, however few participants where able to comment on its price, purity or availability.
Criminal and Police Activity
Almost a third (31%) of the 2003 PDU sample reported ‘dealing’ at least once in the past month, however for almost half of these, dealing occurred less than once a week.
A quarter of the 2003 PDU sample reported that there was more police activity than six months ago. The main type of changes reported by PDU was an increase in undercover police presence at venues (i.e., nightclubs and raves). However 86% of PDU did not believe that the increase in police activity had made it more difficult to score.
PDU represent a sentinel group for a hidden population of users. Innovative research strategies and interventions are required to minimise the harms associated with opportunistic and recreational use of illicit drugs among this group. The data suggest that specific public health measures are required to increase knowledge about the risks of using less common illicit drugs, such as ketamine.
The apparent decrease in the use of a range of party drugs in 2003 will need to be closely monitored in future years. At present, the processes underlying this trend remain unclear.
Given the large proportion of PDU who report engaging in drug ‘dealing’, it may also be beneficial to clarify precisely how users define the term ‘dealer’. It may also be advantageous to determine how users negotiate the procurement of ecstasy for themselves and for others, and whether there is a movement towards a more structured or ‘formalized’ ecstasy market in Queensland.
Data from the 2003 PDI suggest that ecstasy use is a weekly activity amongst regular and current users, who use ecstasy in public and private venues. The high proportion of PDU reporting use in a home environment may be indicative of a ‘normalisation’ of ecstasy use, particularly amongst younger users.
Finally, the 2003 PDI identified evidence of a change in route of administration of amphetamines among PDU, from injecting to smoking. Given the significant health risks associated with injection of illicit drugs (e.g., blood-borne viruses, vein damage), it will also be important to monitor this trend in future years.
Citation: Fischer, J. and Kinner, S. (2004) Queensland Party Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Party Drug Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.