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 2012 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.
Current drug use
A lower proportion of respondents reported recent use of cocaine, LSD, and cannabis (p<0.05) compared with 2011. For the first time cocaine tied with ecstasy as the most commonly reported drug of choice. Use of ecstasy and related drugs was most commonly fortnightly (32%) or weekly (27%). There was a significant increase in the proportion using these drugs more than once per week from 6% in 2011 to 24% in 2012 (p<0.05).
Ecstasy use was similar to 2011. The mean age of first ecstasy use was 18 years, and participants typically swallowed 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 at greater than five standard drinks. Over half of participants (53%) reported that all or most of their friends and acquaintances used ecstasy.
Just over three-quarters of participants (76%) had used one or more forms of methamphetamine within the last six months. Use of methamphetamine powder (speed) and crystalline methamphetamine (ice) continued to rise. For all forms of methamphetamine, amounts used in a regular session were stable; however, amounts used in heavy sessions were higher than in 2011.
Recent use of cocaine decreased in 2012 to 34% of participants (52% in 2011, p<0.05). Use occurred on a median of 4 days, and the number of grams used in both a regular session and a heavy session was stable at 0.75 and 1 gram respectively.
Although 36% of participants had a history of using ketamine at least once in their lifetime, only 7% had used it recently and then on one occasion only.
GHB had been used by 44% of participants, with 10% having used it in the previous six months on a median of 1.5 days.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of participants had used LSD in their lifetime. Recent use decreased from 52% in 2011 to 34% (p<0.05). Two-thirds of participants had used mushrooms in their lifetime, with 15% having used recently.
Cannabis remains one of the most consumed illicit drugs in Australia. Nearly all participants had used cannabis at least once in their lifetime, with four in five participants (81%) having recently used on a median of 48 days, representing three to four days a week during the previous six months. Cones were more commonly used than joints.
Other drug use
Recent use of MDA was reported by 13%, but use was infrequent. Most participants had used alcohol in the previous six months, with use occurring on a median of 48 days. Tobacco use remained stable, with 84% reporting recent use and two-thirds smoking daily.
There were no reports of illicit anti-depressant use in the preceding six months, although 11% had recently used anti-depressants prescribed for them. Use of illicit benzodiazepines remained stable with 32% reporting recent use. Amyl nitrate had been recently used by 16%, but most had only used it once. Nitrous oxide had been recently used by 18% on a median of five days.
Heroin was rarely used (one participant recently); but 7% had recently used buprenorphine with 5% injecting it. Morphine had been recently used by 15%, with 3% injecting it. Nearly one in five (19%) had recently used illicit pharmaceutical stimulants. Over the counter codeine had been recently used for non-pain purposes by 18% of participants. DMT (dimethyltryptamine) was the most commonly used emerging psychoactive drug, with 34% using it in their lifetime and 15% in the previous six months.
Drug market: price, purity, availability and supply
The price of an ecstasy tablet/ capsule remained stable at $25. Rating of ecstasy purity was mixed; although about half rated it as low, 18% rated it as high. There was an increase in the proportion rating availability of ecstasy as very high (57% in 2012 versus 36% in 2011, p<0.05), with changes in availability commonly rated as stable (63%) or easier (23%). Ecstasy was mostly obtained from a friend (65%), with the most common venue being a friend’s house (34%).
It was unclear whether the price of speed and base had changed due to low numbers commenting, but the median price of one point of crystal/ice was $95 compared with $75 in 2011. Purity of all forms of methamphetamine rated highly, particularly ice/crystal purity which was rated as high by four in five participants. All forms of methamphetamines were generally considered to be readily available: friends were the most common source person, followed by a known dealer.
The median price of cocaine was $300 per gram, with price mostly reported as stable. The proportion rating cocaine purity as high increased from 12% in 2011 to 57% in 2012 (p<0.05). Two-thirds (65%) reported cocaine was easy or very easy to obtain. Most of those reporting on cocaine scored from a friend (70%); and a friend’s home was the most common location (60%). Cocaine was consumed at a variety of venues, the most common being a friend’s home.
No participants were able to comment on the ketamine market. Key experts advised that ketamine use was uncommon. They explained that people tended to try it but not use it regularly.
Only four participants commented on the GHB market, preventing meaningful analysis.
Price of LSD was stable at a median of $20 per tab. Purity was generally rated as medium (46%) or high (31%). Ratings of availability were mixed, with 46% rating it as easy but 37% rating it as difficult.
Most participants rated the price of hydro and bush as stable. Hydro was mostly rated as high or medium strength, and bush as medium. Hydro was readily available but bush appeared to be becoming more difficult to access. A friend was the most common source person for both hydro and bush. Hashish and hashish oil were rarely used.
Health-related trends associated with ecstasy and related drug use
Regarding accidental overdoses in the previous 12 months, 18% experienced a stimulant overdose and 31% a depressant overdose. Help was sought by 16% of participants about a specific drug-related problem (e.g. dependence, legal issues) from a service or health professional. A very small proportion of participants (5%) were currently in drug treatment.
Drugs were reported as contributing to recurrent problems in four spheres: increased risky behaviour (52%), difficulty meeting responsibilities (41%), social relationships (29%), and legal (9%). Alcohol, cannabis, ice/crystal and ecstasy were the drugs most commonly reported as the main contributors to recurrent problems.
About three-quarters (74%) of participants recorded moderate to very high distress on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Thirty-six per cent reported a mental health problem in the previous six months, with depression and anxiety being the most common problems.
The proportion of participants who had injected in the previous six months remained at 16%. Just under half (46%) of participants had been vaccinated for hepatitis B, 48% reported being tested for hepatitis C, and 59% for HIV. Two in five participants reported having had a sexual health check-up in the last year.
Of those who drove a vehicle in the previous six months, 50% reported driving while over the alcohol limit and 65% reported driving soon after taking illicit drugs.
The majority of participants (83%) were drinking alcohol at levels which may be harmful to their health.
Law enforcement-related trends associated with ecstasy and related drug use
In the previous 12 months, 19% of participants had been arrested; and in the previous month, 48% had been involved in criminal activity (other than illicit drug use), with 39% having sold drugs for profit. Over a quarter of participants (27%) believed that police activity towards regular ecstasy users had increased. Nearly all participants were aware that if charged for possession of drugs, the quantity of drugs would affect the charge being brought against them.
Special topics of interest
Nearly a quarter (23%) of daily smokers scored high to very high nicotine dependence on the Fagerstrom test. The majority of respondents reported no or few symptoms of ecstasy dependence, with 78% responding that it would not be difficult to stop or go without.
In regard to neurological history, 38% of participants had experienced a traumatic brain injury. Of these (n = 22), 33% had been under the influence of alcohol at the time and 25% under the influence of illicit drugs.
Attitudes towards drug policy varied, with the strongest support being for Needle and Syringe Programs (NSP) and methadone treatment programs. There was strong support for the legalisation of cannabis for personal use, and very little support for increasing the penalties for its sale or supply.
In regard to body image, 23% reported using illicit psychostimulants for weight management, most commonly methamphetamines and ecstasy.