Summary of key findings
In 2009 there were some changes in patterns of drug use among REU. Most notably, the proportion reporting using ecstasy weekly or more increased. The proportion reporting recent use of base methamphetamine decreased in comparison to last year, as did the proportion reporting recent use of cocaine. ‘Binge’ ecstasy use was reported by a larger proportion of REU in 2009 compared to 2008. The proportion nominating ecstasy as the drug of choice also increased in comparison to last year.
Only a minority of REU reported recent overdose on both stimulant or depressant drugs and most received treatment from health professionals. This was compared to friends and bystanders providing treatment in 2008.
While a high proportion of REU reported suspecting that the pills they purchase contain substances other than MDMA, information-seeking behaviours were varied among REU. Some REU reported that they did not seek information regarding the content and purity of the pills they purchased, while the majority that did reported relying on the reports of other REU before taking the drug. Objective education/information sources about ‘pills’ available on the market would always be of some a benefit although ‘pills’ are an ever-changing resource.
One KE described distinctive logos being applied to pill batches which may for a while have better quality contents and achieve popularity because of this. When popularity is achieved (due to content and consumers reporting them as ‘good’ pills), they are changed and sold with lesser quality (cheaper) contents but the same label.
Over three-quarters of the REU sample fell into categories of psychological distress and indicated that they were at moderate or high risk of experiencing a mental disorder (measured by the K10). However, only thirty-eight percent of the REU sample reported having a mental health problem and only half of those sought help for those problems. Interestingly, most of the REU sample fell within the expected range of wellbeing scores (measured by the PWI) which means that people with these scores often feel good about themselves and are motivated to carry out their lives.
Under one-third of the REU sample sought treatment for their drug use which was, however, more common than in 2008. Regarding alcohol, 41% of REU reported alcohol as the drug underlying finding themselves ‘at risk’ (in situations when being under the influence could result in themselves or others being hurt). Alcohol was reported as being used in the last six months by 99% of the REU sample on a median of fifty days. Most KE from both the health and legal sectors report that alcohol consumed in large quantities is the most problematic drug in terms of health and legal implications for the average user. Harm reduction messages targeted toward combined alcohol consumption and ecstasy use appear warranted as over one-third of REU reported consumption of alcohol with ecstasy and often at reportedly risky levels on these occasions.
Finally, many REU reported engaging in sexual activity with casual sex partners, including when under the influence of drugs. A proportion of these REU reported never using protective barriers, both as usual practice and when under the influence of drugs. These behaviours place REU at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI). These sexual practices represent risk-taking behaviours that warrant on-going education about harm reduction strategies.