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Queensland Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2011: Findings from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS)

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Author: Fairlie McIlwraith, Tina Belovic, Sophie Hickey, Rosa Alati

Resource Type: Drug Trends Jurisdictional Reports

The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) is an on-going study of regular ecstasy users and is conducted annually in the capital city of every state and territory in Australia. It is designed to identify emerging trends among a sentinel group of drug users, and to inform the health and law enforcement sectors on current drug use consumption patterns, relevant health issues and other special areas of interest.

The demographic characteristics of the 2011 sample of regular ecstasy users in Queensland were similar to previous years. Typically they were in their mid-twenties, male, heterosexual, and engaged in work and/or study. The only significant difference in the demographic characteristics of participants in 2011 and 2010 was the proportion who had completed Year 12 level of education (73% in 2011 vs 85% in 2010). All significant differences are reported at the <0.05 level.

Consumption trends
Current drug use
Despite ecstasy remaining the main drug of choice, significantly fewer participants than in 2010 identified it as their preferred drug. Compared with 2010, alcohol was significantly less likely to be identified as the drug of choice in 2011 (8% vs. 21%). Alcohol consumption in the previous six months, however, remains almost universal, and there was an increase from 2010 in the use of alcohol, along with tobacco and cannabis, in coming down from ecstasy.

The proportion of participants with a recent history of methamphetamine crystal use was significantly higher than in 2010. Recent use of cocaine was also higher among participants in 2011 than in 2010. Poly-drug use, particularly the use of ecstasy with alcohol, tobacco, and/or cannabis, remained common. A higher proportion of participants reported an injecting drug history compared with 2010.

Ecstasy use
The mean age of first ecstasy use has remained relatively stable in recent years, although the overall trend is towards younger initial use. Participants typically consumed two ecstasy pills per session once a fortnight. Approximately one-third of participants reported having recently binged on ecstasy. Ecstasy continued to be taken with other drugs; primarily alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. The same three drugs were also used to reduce the effects of, or ‘come down’ from, ecstasy.

Methamphetamine use
Use of all forms of methamphetamine (speed powder, base, and crystal/ice) were on the rise in 2011, with the highest rise being in the use of crystal/ice. More than half of participants (60%) had used one or more forms of methamphetamine within the last six months.

Cocaine use
More than half of participants reported recently using cocaine (52%) and most had done so within their lifetime (86%). The median quantity of cocaine used in a typical session was 0.78 grams compared with 0.5 in 2010. The median number of days of use remained stable.

Ketamine use
Whilst 36% of participants had a history of using ketamine at least once in their lifetime, recent use was reported by only four participants.

GHB use
GHB use increased in 2011, with 28% of participants having ever used GHB and 7% having used in the previous six months. Use of GHB in the past six months was occasional and amount typically used was less than in previous years.

Hallucinogen use
Use of LSD was the highest since reporting began in 2003, with 86% having ever used and 52% having used in the preceding six months. Both frequency and amount of LSD used remains generally consistent with previous years. The majority of participants (76%) had used mushrooms at least once in their lifetime, with 21% reporting use within the preceding six months.

Cannabis use
Cannabis remains one of the most consumed illicit drugs in Australia. All participants in 2011 reported some cannabis use, and 93% having used either hydro and/or bush in the last six months. The median frequency of cannabis use was approximately twice weekly. Cones were used most frequently and the median quantity of cones or joints used during the most recent session was three and one respectively.

Other drug use
Limited use of MDA was reported. Use of amyl nitrate remained stable with 22% of participants reporting use in the previous six months, with a median frequency of use of three days. Nitrous oxide was recently used by 16%, with a median frequency of use of four days. Nearly a quarter (24%) reported using heroin in their lifetime, with 7% reporting recent use. Other opioids (e.g. morphine, pethidine) were illicitly used by 18% in the previous six months.

For alcohol, the median number of days of use in the previous six months was 72 days compared with 61 days in 2010. Tobacco was used by 88% in the previous six months.

Use of anti-depressants in previous six months was predominantly licit (12%) rather than illicit (non-prescribed) (2%). Benzodiazepines were more likely to have been used illicitly (36%) than licitly (19%) in the previous six months. Main brands were Valium®, Xanax®, and Temazepam®. Illicit use of pharmaceutical stimulants significantly increased, with 63% reporting use in their lifetime and 26% in the previous six months. Use of OTC codeine was similar to 2010, with 61% reporting use in their lifetime and 49% in the previous six months.

The low use of emerging psychoactive substances was consistent with 2010.


Drug market: price, purity, availability and supply
Ecstasy market
The median price of ecstasy was consistent with the 2010 price of $25 per tablet or capsule, and $235 per gram of powder. About half of all participants described the purity of ecstasy as low, with 43% noting a decrease in purity in the previous six months. However, there is some indication that ecstasy containing reasonably high levels of MDMA has recently been available. Three-quarters of participants reported that ecstasy was easy or very easy to access.

Methamphetamine market
The cost of methamphetamine speed was stable at a median price of $200 per gram; methamphetamine base remained stable at a median price of $40 per point; and methamphetamine ice/crystal increased to a median price of $75 per point.

Most participants considered speed and base to be of medium to high purity, with 61% considering ice/crystal purity to be high. Availability of speed, base, and crystal was reported as mainly easy, and accessibility remained stable.

Cocaine market
The median price per gram of cocaine was reported to be mostly stable at $350. Current purity was rated as medium, with reports of both fluctuation (33%) and stability within the last six months. More than half of those reporting using cocaine in the previous six months found it consistently difficult to access it.

Ketamine market
Interpretation of results was limited because only three participants responded to questions on the market.

GHB market
Interpretation of results was limited because only three participants responded to questions on the market.

LSD market
The median price per tab of LSD remained stable at $20. Purity was reported to be high and consistently stable. LSD continued to be easy to obtain with little change in availability within the previous six months.

Cannabis market
Hashish and hashish oil were rarely used. There was a slight increase in the cost of bush while hydro prices remained similar to 2010. Hydro was reported to be of high strength by more than half the participants (64%); while bush was primarily described as medium strength. The strength of both forms was generally reported to be stable. More participants identified hydro as very easy or easy to obtain than bush.

Health-related trends associated with ecstasy and related drug use
In regard to accidental overdoses in the previous 12 months, 11% reported a stimulant overdose and 14% a depressant overdose. One in five had sought help about a drug-related problem from a service or health professional in the previous six months. Help was most commonly sought from a psychologist (24%) or a drug and alcohol worker (19%). Nine per cent of participants stated they were currently in drug treatment.

Alcohol was the drug most often identified as contributing to recurrent problems in four spheres: social/relationship, legal, increased risky behaviour, difficulty meeting responsibilities.

Seven out of ten participants recorded moderate to very high distress on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Mental health problems in the previous six months were reported by 38%, with the most common problems being depression and anxiety.

Risk behaviour
Almost one-quarter (24%) of participants reported ever injecting a drug in their lifetime, with 16% of participants injecting in the last six months. The most commonly injected drugs were amphetamine powder, methamphetamine base, and heroin. Needles were most likely to be obtained from Needle and Syringe Programs (NSP).

Just over one-third (36%) of participants responded that they had been vaccinated against hepatitis B. Within the last 12 months, 38% of participants were tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and 55% for a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Chlamydia was the most common STI among participants.

Law enforcement-related trends associated with ecstasy and related drug use
In the previous 12 months, 18% of participants had been arrested; and in the previous month, 26% had been involved in criminal activity (other than illicit drug use). Drug dealing was reported by 19% of participants. The majority of participants (62%) believed that police activity towards regular ecstasy users remained stable over the last six months.

Special topics of interest
Online drug activity
Two in three participants reported using the internet for drug-related activity, mostly for accessing information about drugs. Ecstasy was the drug they were most likely to be accessing information about.

Buying and selling of drugs online was only undertaken by a few participants (5% and 2% respectively). Websites, search engines and discussion forums were the most common mediums used for online drug-related activity.

For half of the participants who commented, text messaging was the preferred medium for arranging to obtain ecstasy; and just over half (57%) depended on text messaging completely or quite a lot to obtain ecstasy.

Ecstasy dependence
The majority of respondents reported no or few symptoms of dependence in relation to ecstasy use.

Sleep patterns and practices associated with drug use

Most participants rated their sleep quality as fair or better, with only a few rating it as very poor. Forty-four per cent felt that their drug use impacted negatively on their sleep.

Pleasure, happiness and quality of life scale
For overall quality of life as a whole, the mean score was 7 on a scale from 0 (very bad) to 10 (excellent). On a scale from 0 (nil) to 100 (a lot), the mean contribution to pleasure of taking drugs was 76, to happiness 65, and to quality of life 47.