Queensland Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2005: Findings from the Party Drugs Initiative (PDI)

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Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 258 (2006)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Demographic characteristics of regular ecstasy users
In 2005, 101 regular and current ecstasy users (REU) participated in the Queensland Party Drugs Initiative. REU had a mean age of 23 years (range: 18-40 years) with an average of 12 years of schooling. Just over half of respondents (51%) were male and 40% were in full-time employment. Few of the REUs interviewed reported a criminal history (6%) and fewer (4%) reported currently being in drug treatment. 2005 REU had similar socio-economic characteristics to previous year's samples.

Patterns of drug use among REU
In 2005, polydrug use was the norm with REU reporting lifetime use of an average of 9.71 drug types (range: 3-18), and use of an average of 6.78 drug types (range: 3-13) in the preceding six months.

Binging on amphetamine type stimulants is commonly reported by REU, with 44% reporting binging in 2005 (2004: 42%; 2003: 45%; 2001: 68%; 2000: 64%).

REU most frequently reported recently using alcohol (97%), cannabis (83%) and tobacco (75%) in 2005. Recent use of methamphetamine was also common (speed: 57%; base: 45%; crystal: 50%). The recent use of cocaine, d-lysergic acid (LSD), 3,4 methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), ketamine and gamma-hydroxy-butyrate (GHB) in 2005 was reported by 41%, 24%, 5%, 20% and 13% of the sample respectively.

The incidence of the types of drugs recently used by REU has remained remarkably similar across all recorded time points: alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the drugs most frequently reported as having been recently used. Recent methamphetamine use in all time periods has also been common, with use of cocaine, LSD, ketamine, GHB and MDA less widespread.

Ecstasy
In 2005, REU reported first trying ecstasy at an average age of 19 years, with regular use beginning at an average age of 20 years. In the six months prior to interview, REU reported using ecstasy on a median of 17 days (about three times a month), although 31% of respondents reported using ecstasy weekly or more. In a typical session, a median of two tabs were reportedly used. Ecstasy tabs were used by nearly all REU (99%), with swallowing being the most common route of administration (92%). Over nine in ten (92%) REU reported using other drugs while under the influence of ecstasy and eight in ten reported using other drugs while 'coming down' (81%).

Price, purity and availability of ecstasy
In 2005, REU reported that ecstasy typically cost $32 ($17-$40) for a tab. Across recorded time points, REU have reported that the price of one ecstasy tab has remained relatively stable, with median prices reported between $32 and $40 in 2005 and 2000 respectively.

In 2005, 40% of REU reported the current purity of ecstasy as 'fluctuating', with a further 26% reporting purity as 'medium' and 25% reporting purity as 'high'. Over a third (38%) reported ecstasy purity had been 'fluctuating' in the six months prior to the study, although 31% of the sample reported it as 'stable'. Key experts reported similar observations regarding ecstasy purity in 2005.

In 2005, nearly all REU reported their current ease of access to ecstasy as 'easy' (36%) or 'very easy' (61%). Seven out of ten respondents reported their access to ecstasy had been 'stable' in the six months prior to interview. Across time, REU are increasingly reporting ecstasy as 'easy' to 'very easy' to obtain (2005: 97%; 2004: 95%; 2003: 84%; 2001: 74%; 2000: 72%).

Ecstasy markets and patterns of purchasing
In 2005, REU most commonly reported obtaining ecstasy from their 'friends' (87%) at a 'friend's home' (65%). However, ecstasy was obtained at a number of other private and public locations, including 'dealer's home' (47%), 'nightclubs' (37%) and 'own home' (36%).

In 2005, respondents obtained ecstasy from a median number of three persons in the six months prior to interview. Most REU (79%) reported that they only purchased ecstasy for themselves and for their friends. Ecstasy was mainly purchased around the time of use, with 36% of respondents reporting purchasing ecstasy 1-12 times in the past six months and a further 28% reporting purchasing ecstasy 13-24 times in the past six months.

Methamphetamine
Patterns of Use
In 2005 three-quarters (75%) of REU reported lifetime use of methamphetamine powder (speed) with 57% reporting recent use. Recent speed users reported typically using 0.5 grams (range: 0.6-6) on a median of five days (range: 1-40) in the six months prior to interview. Across all recorded time points, recent speed users have consistently reported using speed about once a month; typically consuming 0.5 grams in a session.

Over half (57%) of REU reported lifetime use of methamphetamine base (base) in 2005, with 45% of respondents reporting recent use. Recent base users reported typically using 1 point (0.5-5) on a median of four days (range: 1-180). More REU reported recent base use in 2005 (45%) than in 2004 (39%), although this was lower than reports in 2001 (76%) and 2000 (74%). Although the frequency of base use has varied across recorded time points, the amount consumed in a typical session (1 point) has remained fairly consistent.

In 2005, over two-thirds (69%) of REU reported lifetime use of crystal methamphetamine, with 50% of respondents reporting recent use. Recent crystal users typically reported using 1 point (range: 0.25-8) on a median of three days (1-180) in the six months prior to interview. More REU reported recent crystal use in 2005 than at any other recorded time point, except 2001 (56%). Despite this, in 2005 the frequency of crystal use was lower than previously recorded. The typical
amount being used was less than 2004 (1.5 points), but the same as in 2003 and 2001 (1 point).

Prices
In 2005, the median price reported for a gram of speed was $180 (range: $30-$220). The median price reported for base was $200 (range: $100-$300), with $310 (range: $175-$600) reported as the median price for a gram of crystal.

Both speed and base were reported to cost a median of $25 per point in 2005, which was similar to previous years. Crystal methamphetamine was reported to cost twice this amount, with the median price reported to be $47.50.

Purity
In 2005, 53 REU reported on the current purity of speed. There was little agreement among those who responded, with 28% reporting speed purity as 'medium', 21% reporting it as 'high' and 26% reporting it as 'fluctuating'. Less conflict was apparent in 2004 and 2003.

Thirty-three REU reported on the current purity of base in 2005. Again, there was little agreement among those who responded, with 21% reporting base purity as 'medium', 36% reporting it as 'high' and 21% reporting it as 'fluctuating'.

Forty-four REU reported on the current purity of crystal methamphetamine in 2005. Over half (55%) of these respondents reported that current crystal purity was 'high' (55%), which was consistent with reports in 2004 (46%) and 2003 (57%).

Availability
At least half of the REU who reported on current speed (N=53), base (N=33), and crystal (N=44) availability reported that these products were 'easy' to 'very easy' to obtain (speed: 72%; base 63%; crystal: 50%). However, the number of REU who reported that methamphetamine in general was 'easy' to 'very easy' to obtain was less in 2005 than 2004 (speed: 82%; base 89%; ice: 62%).

Cocaine
In 2005, over half (55%) of REU reported lifetime use of cocaine, with 41% reporting recent use. Recent cocaine users typically reported using 0.5 grams (range: 0.12-4) on a median of 3 days (range: 1-40) in the six months prior to interview.

More REU reported recent cocaine use in 2005 (41%) than at any previously recorded time point (2004: 21%; 2003: 18%; 2001: 37%; 2000: 38%). Although the median days (3 days: 1-40) of cocaine use was lower in 2005 than the median days of use reported in 2002 (4.5 days: 1-90), the typical amount used in a session (0.5g: 0.12-4) remained similar to previous years.

27 REU reported that the median price for a gram of cocaine was $300 ($200-$400) in 2005.

There was little agreement among the 36 REU who reported on current cocaine purity. In 2005, respondents were also divided on current cocaine availability (N=36), which was similar to reports in 2004 and 2003. Respondents generally reported access to cocaine was either
'difficult' to 'very difficult' (n=18) or 'easy' to 'very easy' (n=16), with two reporting they 'did not know'.

In 2005, the 36 REU who reported on cocaine availability in the six months prior to interview most commonly reported that access had remained 'stable' (n=14). However, eight respondents reported that obtaining cocaine was becoming 'easier', and two reported it was becoming 'more difficult'. A further two reported that cocaine availability was 'fluctuating', and almost a third reported that they 'did not know'. Similar reports were also noted regarding cocaine availability among REU in 2004 and 2003 (Fischer & Kinner 2005; Fischer & Kinner 2004).

Ketamine
Over a third (37%) of REU reported lifetime use of ketamine in 2005, with 20% reporting recent use. Respondents reported typically using 0.75 bumps (a bump refers to a small amount of powder, typically measured and snorted through a bumper) (0.5-1) on a median of 2.5 days (1-70) in the six months prior to interview. More REU reported recent ketamine use in 2005 (20%) than they had at any other recorded time point (2004: 16%; 2003: 14%; 2001: 9%; 2000: 14%). However, the median days of ketamine use were only slightly higher (half a day) in 2005 than in previous years. Respondents also reported using typically smaller quantities than they had in previous years.

Nine REU reported purchasing a gram of ketamine for $150 ($70-$250) in 2005. REU who reported on the current purity of ketamine (N=23) reported it was 'medium' (n=7) or 'high' (n=10) in 2005. The remaining reported ketamine purity was either 'fluctuating' (n=1), 'low' (n=2) or that they 'did not know' (n=3). REU reported current ketamine availability was both 'difficult' to 'very difficult' (n=11) and 'easy' to 'very easy' (n=10) in 2005. Two reported that they 'did not know'.

GHB
A quarter (26%) of REU reported lifetime use of gamma-hydroxy-butyrate (GHB) in 2005, with 13% reporting recent use. Recent GHB users reported typically using 7.5ml (range: 1-25) on a median of 2 days (range: 1-48) in the six months prior to interview.

More REU reported recent GHB use in 2005 (13%) than in previous years (2004: 6%; 2003: 6%; 2001: 10%; 2000: 12%). REU also reported using 7.5ml in a typical session on a median of two days in the six months prior to interview.

In 2005 the median price of GHB purchased by REU in 2005 was reported to be $5 per 1ml ($2-$10). In 2005, REU (N=17) reported their current access to GHB as being either 'difficult' to 'very difficult' (n=8) or 'easy' to 'very easy' to obtain (n=8); one 'did not know'.

LSD
In 2005, over half (58%) of REU reported lifetime use of d-lysergic acid (LSD), with almost a quarter of respondents (24%) reporting recent use. Recent LSD users reported typically using 1 tab (0.25-3) on a median of 1.5 days (1-30) in the six months prior to interview.

More REU reported recent use of LSD in 2005 (24%) compared with reports from 2004 (18%) and 2003 (18%). Despite this increase, the number of REU reporting recent use of LSD in 2005 remained lower than 2001 (38%) and 2000 (48%). The amount typically used in a session (1 tab) is consistent across all recorded time points, although the median number of days on which LSD was used has varied (2005: 1.5; 2004: 2; 2003: 2; 2001: 4; 2000: 2.5).

In 2005, 28 REU reported purchasing one tab of LSD for $20 ($5-$40).

30 REU reported on the price of LSD in the six months prior to interview, with 13 respondents reporting that the price had remained 'stable'. Three REU reported that the price of LSD had 'increased', and two reported it had 'decreased'. Only one respondent reported that LSD had been 'fluctuating' in price, and 11 reported that they 'did not know'.

Almost half (n=14) of those who reported on current LSD purity (N=30) in 2005 reported it was 'high'. Three REU reported purity was 'medium' and one reported it was 'low, with two reporting LSD purity was 'fluctuating' and ten reporting that they 'did not know'.

In 2005, REU (N=30) reported that the current availability of LSD was either 'difficult' to 'very difficult' (n=15) or 'easy' to 'very easy' (n=15).

The price, purity and availability of LSD were also reported to be stable in 2004 and 2003 (Fischer & Kinner 2005; Fischer & Kinner 2004).

MDA
In 2005 less than a fifth of REU (19%) reported lifetime use of 3,4 methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), with only 5% of respondents reporting recent use.

Recent users reported consuming a median of 1.5 caps (range: 1-4) in a typical session, and using MDA on a median of six days (1-78) in the six months prior to interview.

Five REU reported paying a median price of $30 for a cap of MDA in 2005, with reported prices ranging from $28– to $50.

As in previous years, few REU reported on the price, purity and availability of MDA in 2005 (N=5) and as a consequence there was little agreement evident.

Other Drug Patterns
In 2005, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were the most common drugs recently used by REU (alcohol: 97%; tobacco: 75%; cannabis: 83%), and consistently the most common drugs respondents have reported recently using across all recorded time points.

45% of REU reported lifetime use of benzodiazepines and almost a quarter (24%) reported recent use in 2005.

In 2005, almost a quarter (24%) of respondents reported lifetime use of anti-depressants, with 8% reporting recent use.

Almost half (47%) of the REU interviewed in 2005 reported lifetime use of amyl nitrate, with 18% reporting recent use. Over half (54%) of the sample also reported lifetime use of nitrous oxide in 2005, with 30% reporting recent use.

Lifetime use of opiates was only reported by a small number of REU. In 2005, 7% of REU reported recent use of heroin; with 3% reporting recent use of methadone and 11% recent use of 'other' opiates.

Drug Information
Most REU (N=86) reported finding out the content of ecstasy prior to consumption in 2005. Information was mainly sought from 'friends' (80%) and websites (51%), with over a third (36%) reporting use of 'testing kits'. Despite this, there was still a significant proportion (38%) who reported 'never' finding out the content of 'party drugs' (excluding ecstasy) prior to consumption.

Risk Behaviours
A fifth of REU (N=20) reported lifetime injection in 2005, with 13 respondents reporting injection in the six months prior to interview. Of the 13 who reported recent injecting, there were nine respondents who reported 'never' having used a needle after someone else in the month prior to interview, and three who reported using a needle after their regular sex partner.

73% of REU who had penetrative sex in the six months prior to interview reported having sex under the influence of drugs, with less than half (44%) reporting use of a protective barrier with their regular partner. However, 58% of respondents reported use of a barrier with a casual partner.

40% of REU who reported driving in the six months prior to interview reported driving within one hour of consuming alcohol. Further, 55% of those who had driven reported driving within one hour of taking a drug - most commonly ecstasy (75%) and cannabis (46%).

Health-related Behaviour
Twelve respondents reported an overdose on ecstasy or a related drug in the six months prior to interview in 2005.

There were few respondents who reported dependence on ecstasy or methamphetamine in 2005.

In 2005, only 17 REU reported seeking assistance for their drug use in the six months prior to interview, with respondents most commonly seeking assistance for alcohol use.

In 2005, REU reported that the most frequent problems to arise from ecstasy and related drug use were 'occupational/study' problems (34%). However, 'financial' (31%) and 'relationship/social' problems (31%) were also equally reported by respondents.

Criminal and Police Activity
In 2005, 53% of REU reported that police activity had increased in the six months prior to interview, although 86% of respondents reported that this did not make scoring 'more difficult'.

The most common criminal activity REU reported in the month prior to interview was 'drug dealing' (24%) in 2005. This is consistent with reports in both 2004 (20%) and 2003 (31%).

Implications
Recruitment and Interviewing
Recruiting REU into the PDI was more challenging in 2005 than in previous years. Interviewers also observed an increase in the participation of less experienced ecstasy users, particularly in the context of anecdotal reports of a growing cohort of more mature ecstasy users who may be less likely to be recruited into the PDI through existing recruitment methods. This underscores the importance of snow-balling recruitment methods to increase access to this group of users.

Patterns of Ecstasy Use
There have been particular elements of ecstasy use among Queensland REU that have remained constant over time. It may be worth examining whether such patterns are unique to the southeast Queensland sample. Expanding future PDI samples to include south-west and north-east Queensland regional centres could have implications for both state programs in the health and law enforcement sectors and their capacity to respond to harms associated with ecstasy and other drug use.

Ecstasy Purity and Manufacture
In 2005 the south-east Queensland ecstasy market was characterised by stable prices and general market stability. As the monitoring of ecstasy and related drug markets is still in its infancy in Australia, continued monitoring through the PDI will provide a better understanding of the manufacture and distribution of ecstasy and related drugs, and will assist relevant intersectoral responses to emerging trends.

Cocaine
Cocaine may be becoming increasingly available in south-east Queensland, with more REU reporting recent cocaine use in 2005 than ever before. Using the PDI to monitor cocaine use among REU may be useful to determine whether there is a substantive increase in the availability of cocaine in Queensland in the coming years.

LSD
Both REU and key experts reported continued interest in psychedelic drugs by regular ecstasy users in 2005, implying a degree of stability in the LSD market. Little is known about the incidence, prevalence and the patterns of LSD use in the general community; however, it appears that LSD is being increasingly used at specific organised private events, rather than in public settings. Given the prevalence of polydrug use among REU, investigation of drug interactions among specific hidden populations may be warranted.

Niche Market Drugs
There is continuing evidence of an entrenched niche drug market (for instance, GHB and ketamine) that overlaps to some degree with the REU market population accessed through the PDI. An increase in the recruitment of respondents able to report use of niche market drugs will assist with the investigation of emerging trends in this area.

Alcohol and Tobacco Use
REU consistently report alcohol and tobacco use at much higher levels than the general population. Due to the widespread recognition of alcohol and tobacco as the two substances that provide much of the current health care burden, combined with the immediate implications of harm associated with polydrug use, innovative strategies are also required to address legal drug use among REU.

Health-related Behaviours and Risks
Relatively few REU reported seeking assistance for their drug use in 2005 and indeed very few REU reported high levels of dependence for ecstasy or methamphetamine. However, almost a third of the sample reported negative social and personal consequences due to regular ecstasy use. Over half reported driving within one hour of taking a drug, with two-thirds reporting driving after use of ecstasy. Almost eighty per cent of REU reported having penetrative sex while
under the influence of ecstasy also. Further, with increasing reports of REU consumption of alcohol in combination with ecstasy, there is clearly an ongoing need to provide harm reduction interventions focused specifically upon potentially risky behaviours.

Citation: Fischer, J., Cogger, S. and Kinner, S. (2006) Queensland Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2005: Findings from the Party Drugs Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.