NDARC Technical Report No. 187 (2004)
In 2000 the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) was expanded from previous years to explore the feasibility of monitoring trends in the market for party drugs using the existing IDRS methodology. This report presents the findings of the first year of data collection in Perth, W.A. Like the IDRS, these trends are based on three data sources:
- Quantitative interviews with 100 current regular ecstasy users.
- Qualitative interviews with 10 key informants (KIs) who have regular contact with ecstasy users and are employed in areas including health, outreach, and law enforcement.
- Analysis of various indicator data from health and law enforcement sources.
Demographic characteristics of party drug users (PDU)
For the purpose of this study ‘party drug users’ are a population defined by their regular use of tablets sold as ecstasy. The inclusion criteria consisted of the use of ecstasy at least monthly during the previous 6 months, having resided in the Perth metropolitan region for at least 12 months prior to the interview, and being aged 16 years or older.
This sample of ecstasy users was young, relatively well-educated, employed or studying. Respondents were a mean age of 21. The sample was comprised of 53% males and 47% females. The mean number years achieved at school was 12. Forty eight percent of the sample had tertiary qualifications. Sixteen percent were students at the time of the interview and 22% were unemployed. Nine percent identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI).
Patterns of drug use among PDU
While 52% of respondents nominated ecstasy as their drug of choice, polydrug use was common. Participants had used an average of 8.7 drugs in their lifetime and 6.4 within the preceding six months. Eighty five percent of respondents reported using other drugs with ecstasy and76% reported using other drugs during the acute recovery phase after ecstasy use. A mean of 3 drugs was used with ecstasy. Those that were regularly used with ecstasy by substantial numbers of respondents included tobacco, alcohol methamphetamine powder, cannabis and crystal methamphetamine. Additionally, a mean of 2 drugs was used after ecstasy use. Drugs that were regularly used in this context included cannabis, tobacco and alcohol.
Patterns of ecstasy use
Ecstasy users in the current sample began using in their late teens. Variation existed in terms of frequency of use with 39% using between monthly and fortnightly, 36% using between fortnightly and weekly, and 25% of respondents using ecstasy on a weekly basis. In terms of duration of use, an average of 12 days (range 6-78) during the preceding six months was reported. Some 57% reported that they typically use more than one ecstasy tablet per episode of use, with 43% reporting having used 4 or more tablets in a single use episode on at least one occasion over the past six months. Oral routes of administration for ecstasy were most prevalent, although 10% reported having injected the drug at some time.
Price, purity and availability of ecstasy
The majority of respondents paid for their ecstasy through paid employment (85%) or received it as a gift from their friends (67%). Additionally, most respondents reported acquiring the drug from “friends” (91%) or “dealers” (63%). The current standard price of ecstasy in Perth is $40 and 68% reported the price as remaining unchanged during the six months preceding the interview. Some 87% believed it was “easy” or “very easy” to obtain. Some 63% or respondents rated the ease of access as having remained unchanged during the previous six months. Estimates concerning the purity of ecstasy varied among respondents. However, 53% reported the current purity as being either “medium” or “high”, although 33% believed it to fluctuate. Thirty eight percent of respondents believed that levels of purity had fluctuated during the previous six months. Obviously, purity estimates by users are subjective as they are based on individual experience with the drug, and include factors such as user tolerance levels.
Harm related to ecstasy and other drug use
Respondents reported a range of recently experienced health related side effects attributed at least partially to their use of ecstasy. An average of 19 side effects was reported as experienced in the last 6 months, occurring both while under the influence of ecstasy and during the acute recovery period following ecstasy use.
Among those who recently used ecstasy, 73% reported experiencing “loss of appetite”, 72% reporting “blurred vision”, and 51% experienced “confusion” under the influence and attributed to their use of ecstasy. Some 75% of recent ecstasy users reported “confusion” attributable to their use of ecstasy, 72% reported “blurred vision”, and 51% experienced ecstasy use related “confusion” during the acute recovery period after ecstasy use.
The involvement of ecstasy in occupational (9%), relationship (29%), and financial problems (42%), was also reported by substantial numbers of respondents. In most cases the problems were minor in nature, although some could be considered more severe. For example, 3 respondents reported a loss of employment and 1 described missing work due to the effects of drug use. Some8 respondents reported having a relationship end. Sixteen respondents reported being in debt, and 8 respondents reported being unable to pay for food or rent.
The majority of respondents reported both lifetime (93%) and recent (83%) use of methamphetamine powder (speed). Thirty four percent reported using less than monthly, and66% of respondents reported using at least monthly. Some 25% of respondents used weekly or more often, during the preceding six months. Respondents reported using an average of 8 days during the past six months with 0.2 of a gram being the typical amount used per session. It was most commonly taken orally or snorted.
Thirty two percent of the sample reported using methamphetamine base during the preceding six months with 66% of these using less often than monthly. The typical amount used was 1 point (0.1 of a gram), and most reported taking it orally.
Over three quarters (77%) reported using crystal methamphetamine in the last six months on a median of 8 days. The common amount used was 1 point. Most respondents (62%) used at least monthly with 23% using weekly or more often. It was most commonly smoked or snorted.
The current price for a point of all three forms of methamphetamine was $50 and this was understood as remaining stable during the past six months. All forms were rated as being currently “medium” or “high” in terms of purity or strength. Most believed that this had remained stable. Specifically, the purity of methamphetamine powder was believed to have remained unchanged by 36% of respondents who commented. Some 46% rated the current purity of methamphetamine base as stable. Some 31% of respondents who commented believed the current purity of crystal methamphetamine as unchanged during the previous six months.
The majority of respondents who commented on the availability of methamphetamine powder reported it being “very easy” or “easy” to obtain (48% and 24% respectively). Some 51%of respondents believe that availability had remained stable through the preceding six months. In terms of methamphetamine base, over half of respondents rated availability as very easy (35%) or easy (19%) to obtain. Some 50% of respondents who commented characterized the availability of methamphetamine base over the previous six months has remaining the same, or stable. Crystal methamphetamine was believed to be “easy” (21%) or “very easy” (46%) to obtain by two thirds of respondents who commented. According to 36% of respondents ease of access to crystal methamphetamine had become “easier” over the previous six months while 25% reported it as having remained stable over that period.
Although 44% respondents reported lifetime use of cocaine, only 17% reported having used the drug in the last 6 months Among these recent users, 94% had used monthly or less often. Respondents reported an average of 2 days use during the past six months, with 0.5 grams being the typical amount used. All respondents reported having snorted it recently with only 3 respondents having swallowed it. In no cases did injecting or smoking occur.
According to the 6 interviewees who commented, the average price for cocaine at the time of interview was $350 per gram. Fourteen respondents commented on changes in price during the past 6 months. Some 50% stated a lack of knowledge and 36% described it having remained unchanged during the six month period. Of the 14 respondents who commented, purity was rated as “low” by 79% and 50% rated it as having remained that way during the previous six months. The drug was described as “difficult” or “very difficult” to obtain by 72% of the fourteen interviewees who were able to comment. Also among the 14 who commented, availability was rated as having remained unchanged during the previous six month period by 43% of respondents.
Lifetime use of ketamine was reported by 25% of respondents with 12% reporting having used the drug in the previous 6 months. Some 83%of those who had used the drug in the last 6 months used ketamine less often than once per month. Thus recent use was not widespread in the current group of PDU. This was reflected in the data obtained where only small numbers were able to report on issues of price, purity, and availability, making these results potentially unreliable.
One fifth (20%) of respondents reported lifetime use, and 8% having used GHB in the last 6 months. Of these, 88% reported using less than monthly during the previous six months with a typical amount of use being 10 mls of the liquid. Given the small number of recent users, information concerning price, purity, and availability were largely unavailable, and any data that was obtained is likely unreliable.
Most respondents (62%) reported lifetime use of LSD with 22% having used it recently. Some 91% of these recent users reported using it monthly or less often with 1 “tab” being the average amount used. Twenty eight interviewees were able to comment on the price of LSD. The average price per tab was reported as $20 and this was thought to have remained unchanged during the preceding six month period. Among the 41 respondents who commented, purity was rated as “medium” or “low” by 56% but respondents were unable to comment on whether this had changed during the past six months. LSD was believed to be very difficult to obtain by 51% of respondents and this was rated as unchanged during the past six months by 58%.
Only 12% of respondents reported lifetime use of MDA, and only one respondent reported having used it in the last 6 months. Given this, further discussion is not undertaken at this point.
Criminal and Police Activity
Some 61% reported not being engaged in any criminal activities during the month prior to the interview. Thirty six percent of respondents reported being involved in drug dealing during the month preceding the interview. However, 22 of those who reported dealing did so once per week or less often. It should be noted that many of these respondents did not characterize their behaviour as ‘dealing’ in the sense that they purchased drugs to distribute to friends without profiting. Overall, 92% of respondents said they had not been arrested during the previous 12 months. Four percent reported a previous criminal conviction or prison history. Only 5% reported currently undergoing drug treatment. Respondents’ perceptions concerning any changes in police activity during the past six months towards party drug users were varied with 34% stating it as remaining “unchanged”, and 29% citing it as having “increased”. Most respondents (82%), however, did not believe that police activity had any impact on their obtaining drugs.
Citation: Chanteloup, F. and Lenton, S. (2004) Western Australian Party Drug Trends 2003: Findings from the Party Drug Initiative (PDI), Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.