NDARC Technical Report No. 184 (2004)
This report presents the results of a study to monitor party drug markets in South Australia. The 2003 sample represents the fourth year in which Adelaide party drug users have been surveyed and comparisons have been drawn where possible. Trends of the demographic characteristics and patterns of drug use among party drug users, their criminal behaviour, and perceptions of risks, benefits and harms related to use are presented.
Demographic characteristics of party drug users (PDU)
Similar to previous years, the majority of PDU were male, and in their early 20’s. The majority of the sample was either employed or studying with only 20% reporting being unemployed. Most PDU were well educated with the majority having completed high school. Approximately half had completed either a trade/technical qualification (24%) or a tertiary qualification through university or college (22%).
Patterns of drug use among PDU
Party drug users were identified as polydrug users with the median number of drugs used reported to be nine across lifetime and seven in the last six months. The drugs most commonly used by PDU in 2003, in addition to ecstasy, were some form of methamphetamine, alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and nitrous oxide.
Forty-four percent of PDU reported binge use, defined as use of party drugs for greater than 48 hours without sleep. Decreases in binge behaviour were noted this year as were the proportions reporting injecting drug use.
Over the last four years little change in the reported mean age of first use, median days of use, average or most amount used in a typical session, or in the proportion using more than one tablet in a typical session, was seen. However, a marked decrease since 2002 in the proportion of PDU who reported use of ecstasy during a binge episode was recorded.
The price of ecstasy remained unchanged since 2002, and stable over the last six months. The majority of PDU believed that the purity of ecstasy fluctuated in the last six months and that it was easy or very easy to obtain, however, a small decline in obtainability was evident this year. Very few PDU reported obtaining ecstasy from strangers.
Since 2002, there has been a substantial decrease in the proportion reporting typical use of methamphetamine and GHB with ecstasy. A concomitant increase in alcohol use with ecstasy and during come down has been observed.
For the first time in 2003, PDU perceptions of perceived risks and benefits were recorded. Detailed information was provided and the most common perceived benefits were mood enhancement and enhanced communication and empathy toward others. The most commonly reported risks were some form of physical or psychological harm.
Compared to 2002, fewer PDU reported lifetime use of all forms of methamphetamine and a similar decrease across the board in recent use of all forms of methamphetamine was seen; the largest decrease occurred in recent use of crystal methamphetamine. An analysis of binge behaviour also saw a substantial decrease in the percent of PDU reporting use of all forms of methamphetamine during a binge episode.
Of the three different forms, recent crystal methamphetamine use has decreased dramatically to 2001 levels, following a peak in 2002. Overall, the median number of days of use of all forms of methamphetamine has decreased since 2002. In comparison to previous years there appears to have been little change in price and purity. Availability of all forms of methamphetamine remained at high levels, but changes in the proportion reporting easy and very easy were seen. Interestingly, the decrease in availability of crystal methamphetamine was more marked than either base or powder.
Nightclubs were the most commonly reported locations of use for crystal and base methamphetamine, while a private home was the most commonly reported location for use of powder methamphetamine. Friends were the most likely source of all forms of methamphetamine.
Party drug user perceptions of risks and benefits of methamphetamine were recorded. The most common perceived benefits were an ability to stay awake and increased endurance. The most commonly reported risks related to either short-term or long-term physical and mental health.
A smaller proportion of the PDU sample reported recent use of cocaine compared to 2002, though little change was noted in overall levels of use. In comparison to ecstasy and methamphetamine, the availability if cocaine was rated as much more difficult to obtain and purity was considered low to medium.
The least likely place PDU reported using cocaine was, surprisingly, at raves and dance parties. Use was far more likely to occur in nightclubs or friends’ homes. The most commonly reported benefits of cocaine were increased confidence and euphoria, while the most commonly reported risks were addiction, overdose and financial problems.
Approximately half of PDU in 2003 reported lifetime use of ketamine and more than a third reported recent use. There has been a continuation in the rise of recent ketamine use since 2001. The majority of PDU able to comment reported that the price of ketamine had remained stable in the six months leading up to the survey. The purity of ketamine was reported as high or medium, a situation that was stable over the past six months. It was also considered moderately easy to obtain by the majority of PDU able to comment. A decrease in perceived availability was noted since 2002.
Unlike the location of other drugs previously described, ketamine was more likely to be used at a friends’ home than other venues. The mostly commonly reported benefit of ketamine was the dissociative effect provided by the drug, while the most commonly reported risk was the ease of overdose resulting in death.
There was a decrease in the proportion of PDU reporting lifetime and recent use of GHB compared to 2002. A small reduction in the frequency of reported use, and average amount used per session, of GHB was also noted. Price, purity and availability data for GHB use in 2003 was based on a very small sample of PDU and caution should be exercised when attempting to generalise to the wider South Australian population of PDU. The median price of a millilitre of GHB has doubled since 2002, and PDU reported an increased difficulty in obtaining GHB.
The mostly commonly reported benefit of GHB was the relaxing effect provided by the drug, while the most commonly reported risk was the ease of overdose and collapse. In 2003, the number of presentations to the Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department with GHB related diagnoses almost halved compared to 2002.
A decrease in the proportion of PDU reporting lifetime and recent use of LSD compared to 2002 was noted. There was no real change in the frequency of reported use, or average amount used per session, of LSD. Price, purity and availability data for LSD in 2003 revealed no change in price, but a shift towards decreasing purity and availability.
The mostly commonly reported benefit of LSD was a state of ‘altered perception’ provided by the drug, while the most commonly reported risk was the possibility of experiencing a ‘bad trip’.
There was a small rise in the proportion of PDU reporting lifetime use, though recent use of MDA remained stable compared to 2002. No change in the frequency of reported use, and average amount used per session, of MDA between 2002 and 2003 was noted.
Price, purity and availability data for MDA use in 2003 was based on a very small sample of PDU and caution should be exercised when attempting to generalise to the wider South Australian population of PDU. The median price of a cap of MDA was unchanged from 2002, and PDU reported an increased difficulty in obtaining MDA.
Party drug related harm
In 2003, 37% of PDU reported involvement in some type of crime, which was lower than reported criminal involvement in the previous two years. Drug dealing was the most commonly reported crime across the four years of the survey. A slight increase in the proportion of PDU that had been arrested in the last 12 months was recorded. Despite this, there was a decrease in the proportion of the sample reporting a perceived increase in police activity since 2002. The majority of PDU reported that their ability to obtain drugs had not become more difficult due to police activity in 2003.
There was no substantial change in the proportion of PDU reporting criminal methods of payment for drugs across the four years of the survey. In each year, drug dealing was predominant.
For the first time in 2003, PDU were asked if they had experienced a list of 40 different side effects within the last six months that they attributed (at least in part) to their ecstasy or other party drug use. A median of 17 (range 4 – 35) side effects, related to drug use in the last 6 months, was reported by the PDU. The most commonly reported side effects attributed to drug use generally were, in order, loss of appetite, confusion, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, blurred vision and loss of energy, experienced by 70% or more of PDU.
The survey also asked users about their experience of other problems related to their ecstasy or other drug use during the last six months, in the categories of work/study, financial, legal/police and social/relationship. Seventy-three PDU reported having experienced one or more problems related to their drug use in that time. The majority of problems experienced by PDU related to some aspect of their work or study, followed by social and financial problems. Use of ecstasy, or some form of methamphetamine, was most commonly blamed, at least in part, for these problems.
The following issues were identified in the 2003 survey, which will require ongoing attention from policy makers, researchers and health professionals;
- An analysis of the different sub-groups of users and their drug using profiles.
- An investigation of the effects of a high level of drug knowledge among users on their risk perception and risk taking behaviour.
- With the return of the popularity of alcohol use among this population, revisiting the harm minimisation strategies and their effectiveness is required.
- The results of the 2003 survey highlighted a methodological issue regarding definitions of locations within the dance party scene, which may require greater resolution of differences in drug use patterns at different venues.
Citation: Weekley, J., Pointer, S. and Ali, R. (2004) South Australian Party Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Party Drug Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.