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

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Author: J. Fischer, S. Kinner

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 223 (2005)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sample Characteristics
One hundred and sixty one regular ecstasy users participated in the 2004 PDI. Participants were a mean age of 26 years, 55% were male, 98% reported an English speaking background, 47% reported being tertiary educated and 44% were in full-time employment. Few reported a prison history (7%) and very few were currently in drug treatment (3%).

In 2004, regular ecstasy users reported having ever used a mean of 9.5 drug classes and 6.5 drug classes in the last six months. Almost nine in ten (89%) reported having used other drugs whilst 'on' ecstasy, 75% reporting using other drugs to 'comedown' from ecstasy and 42% reported binging on any stimulant in the last six months.

Risk behaviours were apparent in the 2004 sample of regular ecstasy uses. Half (51%) reported driving soon after taking a drug in the last six months. The most common drugs being ecstasy (42%), cannabis (30%), alcohol (22%) and methamphetamine base (22%). Seventy per cent of participants who reported injecting in the last six months (29%) injected either under the influence or when coming down. Sixty-five per cent of regular ecstasy users had sex in the last six months whilst 'under the influence' and 49% reported they did not always use protection with their casual partner.

Ecstasy
Regular ecstasy users in 2004 first used ecstasy at a median of 21.42 years, and started using ecstasy regularly at a mean age of 22.55 years.

Regular ecstasy users in the 2004 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, 2 tabs of ecstasy were consumed, mainly by swallowing (83%).

The median price reported for an ecstasy tab by regular ecstasy users was $35 (range: $17 - $65). This was similar to the prices reported by key experts (range of $25 -$60) and by the ACC (2004) ($35-$60).

A third of participants reported the current purity of ecstasy was 'medium'. A further 27% reported it as 'high' and 24% reported it as 'fluctuating'. In 2004, 95% of regular ecstasy users reported current ecstasy availability as 'easy - very easy'.

Methamphetamine powder (speed)
65% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used methamphetamine powder, 42% reported recent use in 2004. Recent speed users in 2004 (N=67) reported mainly consuming speed by swallowing (79%) and using a median of once a month in the last six months. In a typical session 0.5 grams of speed was used by those reporting (n=27) the average amount they consumed.

The most common last use venue for speed use was nightclubs (30%).

The median price reported by 25 participants for a gram of speed was $180 in 2004. Of the 50 participants who reported on current speed purity, 54% as being 'medium-high'. Fifty participants reported on current speed availability with none reporting their access as 'very difficult'. A further 14% reported their access as 'difficult', half reported their access as 'easy', 32% as 'very easy' and 4% reported they 'did not know'.

Methamphetamine base (base)
55% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used methamphetamine base with 39% reporting recent use in 2004. Recent base users in 2004 (N=62) reported mainly consuming speed by swallowing (60%). However, injecting was also common (51%). Recent based users used on a median of twice a month in the last six months. In a typical session 2 points of base was used by those reporting (n=52) the average amount they consumed.

The most common location last use venue for base was friends home (28%).

The median price reported by 11 participants for a gram of base was $200 in 2004. Of the 53 participants who reported current base purity, 79% reported it as currently 'medium-high'. Fifty-three participants reported on current base availability with none reporting their access as 'very difficult'. A further 11% reported their access as 'difficult', 38% reported their current access as 'easy' and 51% reported their access as 'very easy'.

Crystal methamphetamine (ice)
Sixty per cent of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used crystal methamphetamine and 42% reported recent use in 2004. Recent ice users in 2004 (N=68) reported mainly consuming speed by smoking (65%) and use occurred about once every month in the last six months. In a typical session 1.5 points of ice was used by those reporting (n=63) the average amount they consumed.

The median price reported by 11 participants for a gram of ice was $300 in 2004. Of the 50 participants who reported current ice purity, 76% reported it as currently 'medium-high'. Fifty participants reported on current ice availability with 8% reporting their access as 'very difficult'. A further 26% reported their access as 'difficult', 36% reported their current access as 'easy' and 26% reported their access as 'very easy'.

Cocaine
Whilst 45% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used cocaine, only 21% reported recent use in 2004. Recent cocaine users in 2004 (N=34) reported mainly consuming cocaine by snorting (85%) and using on a median of two days in the last six months. In a typical session 0.5 grams of cocaine was used by those reporting (n=20) the average amount they consumed.

The median price reported by 14 participants for a gram of cocaine was $237.50 in 2004. Seventeen participants reported on current cocaine purity with six reporting it as 'medium'; three reporting it as 'low', two as 'high' and four reporting they 'did not know'. Of these 17 participants, eight reported that it was currently 'easy-very easy' to obtain, seven reporting it was 'difficult-very difficult to obtain and one reporting they 'did not know'.

Ketamine
Whist 32% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used ketamine, only 16% reported recent use in 2004. Recent ketamine users (N=25) reported mainly consuming ketamine by swallowing (68%) and using on a median of two days in the last six months. In a typical session, 3 caps of ketamine was used by those reporting (n=9) the average amount they consumed.

No median price for a cap of ketamine was reported in 2004 and there was little agreement amongst the seven participants who reported on ketamine purity and availability.

GHB
Few (20%) regular ecstasy users reported having ever used GHB only 6% reported recent use in 2004. Recent GHB users (N=9) all reported consuming GHB by swallowing and using on a median of four days in the last six months. In a typical session 4ml of GHB was used by those reporting (n=8) the average amount they consumed in a typical session.

Four participants reported on GHB price reported in 2004 with one reporting a price of 0.60c per ml and three others reporting a price of $5 per ml. Five participants reported on current GHB purity with three reporting it as 'high', one reporting it as 'fluctuating' and one reporting they 'did not know'. All five participants reported GHB was 'easy-very easy' to obtain.

LSD
Over half (52%) of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used LSD and 18% reported recent use in 2004. Recent LSD users in 2004 (N=29) reported mainly consuming cocaine by swallowing (97%) and using on a median of two days in the last six months. In a typical session, one LSD tab was consumed by those reporting (n=28) the average amount they consumed.

The median price reported by 19 participants for tab of LSD was $20 in 2004. Nineteen participants reported current LSD purity, with 15 participants reported it as 'medium-high'. Of these 19 seven reporting LSD was currently 'easy-very easy' to obtain, nine reporting it was 'difficult-very difficult' to obtain and three reporting they 'did not know'.

MDA
Whilst 29% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used MDA, only 16% reported recent use in 2004. Recent MDA users in 2004 (N=25) reported mainly consuming cocaine by swallowing (92%) and using on a median of three days in the last six months. In a typical session two caps was consumed by those reporting (n=21) the average amount they consumed.

The median price reported for a cap of MDA in 2004 was $35 in 2004. There was little agreement amongst the seven participants who reported on MDA purity and availability in 2004.

Other Drugs
As in the general population, regular ecstasy users reported high levels of alcohol and cannabis use. As they were in the general population, the most common drugs regular ecstasy users reported having ever used in 2004 were alcohol (98%), cannabis (87%) and tobacco (78%). Subsequently these were the most common drugs participants reported recently using in 2004 (alcohol: 89%; cannabis: 70%; tobacco: 68%).

Almost half (46%) of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used benzodiazepines and 30% reported recent use in 2004. In comparison, in 2003, 38% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used benzodiazepines and 27% reported recent use.

Whilst 22% of regular ecstasy users reported having ever used heroin, only 12% reported recent use in 2004. Additionally, whilst 29% of participants reported having ever used other opiates, only 16% report recent use.

Criminal Activity, Perceptions of Policing and Market Changes
Seven per cent of regular ecstasy users reported a previous conviction in 2004. In the last month, 23% reported committing crime, the most common being drug dealing (20%).

Regular ecstasy uses reported obtaining ecstasy from a median of three people (range: 0-10) in the last six months with most participants obtaining ecstasy from one person.

Forty-five per cent of participants reported they 'did not know' about police activity in the last six months.

Implications
The PDI has now completed its second year as a truly national approach in monitoring ecstasy and other related drug markets in Australia. However, the methodology and particularly the methods and channels of recruitment are still being established. Within this context the following implications of the 2004 QLD results are given:

Across time periods (2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004) the demographic characteristics of regular and current ecstasy users seem to be relatively stable. Hence, in time we may be able to determine how representative the sampling frame is of current and regular ecstasy users in Queensland.

Risk behaviours were apparent in the 2004 sample of regular ecstasy uses. Drug driving, injecting, and sex without protection have the potential to be risks for accidents, transmission of blood borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections. Being under the influence increases the risk in these circumstances. Understanding nuances in these behaviours and the development of interventions in response to these behaviours needs to be considered.

Given the apparent differences in reports of ecstasy purity by regular ecstasy users, key experts and indicator data, the relationships and processes at work between ecstasy manufacture and end market product remain unclear.

The 2004 QLD PDI identified an increase in the use of base amongst regular ecstasy users and the establishment of smoking as the main route of administration for ice. Given the significant health risks associated methamphetamine it will be important to monitor these patterns of use closely.

Innovative research strategies and interventions are required to minimise the harms associated with opportunistic and recreational use of illicit drugs. In particular, cocaine or LSD use.

Since 2000, the proportion of regular ecstasy users who have reported recent use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis has gradually declined. The reason for this likely due to cultural shifts in the use of alcohol and tobacco, however, for cannabis use it remains uncertain. Concerns remain with the interaction between the use of ecstasy and the consumption of alcohol, the smoking of tobacco and use of cannabis whilst under the influence of ecstasy. Alternatively, the extent of harm associated with primary use of alcohol or cannabis and concurrent but secondary use of other drugs is also uncertain. As alcohol, cannabis and tobacco use are common.

Citation: Fisher, J. and Kinner, S. (2005) Queensland Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2004: Findings from the Party Drugs Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.