NDARC Technical Report No. 276

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS, formerly the Party Drugs Initiative, or PDI) arose out of the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS). The EDRS is a study that acts as a strategic early warning system for trends and issues emerging from illicit drug markets in Australia. The data collected examine the price, purity and availability of four primary illicit drug classes – ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine and cannabis – as well as niche market drugs such as GHB, ketamine, LSD, and MDA, and are used to supplement existing data, such as key expert reports and indicator data, thus providing a multifaceted approach to the task of monitoring the Australian ecstasy and related drug market.

Demographic characteristics of regular ecstasy users (REU)
Consistent with past years, the majority of regular ecstasy users interviewed for the ACT EDRS, in 2006, were male. The sample was from an English speaking background, aged between late teens and mid-twenties, and predominantly heterosexual. Almost seventy percent of the sample had completed at least high-school education, and at the time of interview the majority of REU were either studying at a tertiary level or employed full-time. A minority of the sample reported ever having contact with the criminal justice system, and four REU indicated that they were currently accessing a drug treatment facility.

KE reports were consistent with the demographics of the REU. Most reported that ecstasy users were in their twenties and were either studying or in full-time employment.

Patterns of drug use among REU
Polydrug use was universal among the 2006 ACT EDRS sample. REU had used a mean of nine drugs in their lifetime and a mean of six drugs in the previous six months. Only a minority of the sample reported ever having injected drugs. Ecstasy was clearly the drug of choice for this sample, followed by cannabis and methamphetamine. KE reports were consistent with this: most believed that REU used other drugs as well as ecstasy, and used alcohol in combination with ecstasy.

The majority of the sample indicated that they ‘typically’ used other drugs both in combination with ecstasy and also to facilitate their comedown. Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were the drugs that were most commonly used by REU in the context of ecstasy use and also during the comedown period. Almost half the sample reported having ‘binged’ (used continuously for 48 hours or more) on ecstasy and other drugs in the six months prior to interview. Ecstasy was used in extended binge episodes by almost all REU who reported recent ‘binge’ activity. Other drugs commonly used in these binge episodes were methamphetamine powder, cannabis, alcohol, crystal methamphetamine and cocaine. Table 1 summarises the use, price, purity and availability of ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, cannabis, ketamine, LSD, GHB and MDA.

Ecstasy use
Ecstasy pills had been used by the entire sample in the past six months, and the pill form was the most commonly used form of ecstasy by REU. Smaller proportions of the sample reported ever having used ecstasy powder (36%) or having used ecstasy powder in the past six months (19%). In the six months prior to interview, the median number of days of any form of ecstasy use was sixteen. Over two-fifths of the sample reported using ecstasy on a monthly to fortnightly basis in the past six months, with approximately one-third of the sample using ecstasy on a greater than fortnightly to weekly basis. The median number of ecstasy tablets consumed in a ‘typical’ session of use was two, whereas a median of four tablets were taken by REU in the ‘heaviest’ session of use.

Price, purity and availability of ecstasy
The median reported price for a tablet of ecstasy has remained stable in the ACT since 2003 at $35 a tablet. Also consistent with previous years, almost the entire sample in 2006 reported that ecstasy was ‘very easy’ to ‘easy’ to obtain in the ACT. The majority of the sample reported that the ease with which ecstasy could be obtained had remained stable or had become easier. Ecstasy was primarily obtained by REU through friends, known dealers and acquaintances. The current purity of ecstasy was reported by REU to be at ‘medium’ to ‘high’ levels, and approximately one-fifth of the sample indicated that the purity of ecstasy had fluctuated in the past six months.

Ecstasy markets and patterns of purchasing
In the six months prior to interview, REU had purchased ecstasy from a median of three people. Participants indicated that when purchasing ecstasy they typically bought it for themselves and others, and they typically purchased a median of five pills on each purchase occasion. Similar proportions of REU reported typically buying ecstasy on a monthly or less than monthly basis, or on a greater than fortnightly to weekly basis in the past six months. Nearly two-fifths reported that they purchased ecstasy on a greater than monthly, but less than fortnightly basis. Sixty-nine percent of the entire sample reported that they were able to purchase other drugs from their ‘main’ ecstasy dealer. Other drugs that were commonly available to REU at the time of ecstasy purchase were methamphetamine powder, cannabis, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and base methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is available in three forms: methamphetamine powder (‘speed’), methamphetamine base (‘base’) and methamphetamine crystal (‘crystal’). Nine in ten REU reported ever having used speed, and eight in ten REU reported using speed in the past six months. Recent speed users reported a median of four days of use in the six months prior to interview. Snorting was the primary mode of administration, although there were increases this year in the proportion of REU who reported having injected speed. In 2006, the amounts of speed used by REU in both ‘typical’ and ‘heaviest’ episodes of recent speed use remained relatively stable. Participants reported using a median of 0.5 grams of speed in a ‘typical’ session of use and 1 gram in the heaviest session of use. Speed was used during binges by over half those REU who reported recently having binged on ecstasy and related drugs, and was also frequently used in combination with ecstasy.

Base methamphetamine was less commonly used by REU, with forty-eight percent of the 2006 sample reporting ever having used base and approximately one-third reporting recent use. The majority of recent base users had used this substance infrequently (less than monthly) in the six months prior to interview with a median of four days of use being reported. Swallowing was the most common route of administration reported by base users. There was also an increase in the proportion of REU who had recently injected base. The majority of base users quantified their use of the substance in terms of ‘points’. A median of one point of base was used in a ‘typical’ episode of use, whereas a median of two points were used by REU in the ‘heaviest’ session of recent use. Only a small proportion of REU who had used ecstasy and related drugs in extended binge episodes reported using base methamphetamine during these binge sessions. Of those REU who commonly used other drugs in combination with ecstasy, ten percent indicated that they used base methamphetamine in this way.

Crystal methamphetamine had been used by almost half the sample and by approximately one-third of the sample in the past six months. The majority of recent crystal users had used this substance infrequently with a median of four days of use in the past six months. In the 2006 EDRS the most common mode of recent crystal administration was smoking, followed by swallowing and snorting. In the previous six months, one ‘point’ was the median amount of crystal consumed in a ‘typical’ session and 1.5 points in the ‘heaviest’ sessions of use by REU. When compared to powder and base methamphetamine, relatively small percentages of REU reported using crystal during binge episodes or in combination with ecstasy.

The median price for a point of methamphetamine was reported to have increased slightly for all forms, at $40 for speed, $42.50 for base methamphetamine and $50 for crystal methamphetamine. Consistent with past years, this year the majority of respondents reported the current purity of each form of methamphetamine to be ‘medium’ to ‘high’. The reports of REU indicated that the purity of base and crystal methamphetamine was relatively stable and that the purity of speed had remained stable or decreased over the previous six months. The availability of each form of methamphetamine was reported to be stable and ‘easy’ to ‘very easy’ to obtain. Like ecstasy, methamphetamine was primarily obtained by REU from known dealers and friends. Some KE commented that there had been an increase in the use of crystal in the ACT in the preceding six months. Six KE commented that a few REU also used crystal, and two KE commented that most REU would also use crystal.

In the 2006 ACT EDRS, participants, who had recently used methamphetamine (78%), completed the Severity of Dependence Scale (SDS). An SDS score of four or greater is indicative of problematic amphetamine use and, for this sample, the median SDS score obtained was 1 (range 0-6): six participants had SDS scores that exceeded this threshold.

Cocaine
Approximately two-thirds of the 2006 EDRS sample had ever tried cocaine, and almost half the sample reported using cocaine in the previous six months. Those REU who had recently used cocaine had used the substance on a median of two days in the preceding six months, and the majority had used on a less than monthly basis during this period of time. Snorting remained the most common route of administration, and there was a decrease this year in the proportion of REU who had recently smoked cocaine. The median amount of cocaine used in a ‘typical’ episode of use was half a gram, which increased to one gram when referring to the ‘heaviest’ episode of use. One in five REU who had binged on ecstasy and related drugs in the previous six months reported using cocaine during these binge sessions.

The median price for a gram of cocaine increased in 2006 to $300, from $250 in the previous years. The reports of REU indicated that the current purity of cocaine in the ACT is stable at ‘medium’ to ‘high’ levels. The response of REU in regards to the current availability of cocaine in the ACT was mixed, which is also consistent with reports of participants in previous years. Cocaine was typically purchased by REU from friends and known dealers in the six months prior to interview. Three KE commented that the use of cocaine in the ACT was rare; however, four reported that there had been an increase in use in the six months preceding interview.

Cannabis
For the first time in 2006, REU were asked about the price, purity and availability of cannabis, specifically hydroponic (indoor-cultivated) and bush (outdoor-cultivated) cannabis. Lifetime cannabis use was almost universal among REU in the ACT in 2006, and approximately eight in ten had used cannabis in the six months preceding interview. Median days of use increased from 39 in 2005, to 50 in 2006, and one-fifth reported that they used cannabis on a daily basis. Smoking was almost universal, and approximately one-quarter reported that they had swallowed cannabis in the preceding six months. Over half of those who reported that they had binged in the preceding six months reported that they had used cannabis, and approximately half reported that they had typically used cannabis whilst under the influence of ecstasy. Furthermore, eight in ten had used cannabis to facilitate the ‘comedown’ from ecstasy.

The median price for a gram of both hydroponic and bush cannabis was $20, and $300 for an ounce of hydroponic and $220 for an ounce of bush. The majority reported that the prices of both forms had remained stable in the six months preceding interview. The current purity of hydroponic cannabis was reported to be ‘high’, while for bush cannabis it was reported to be ‘medium’ to ‘low’. The majority of REU who were able to comment reported that hydroponic cannabis was ‘very easy’ to obtain, and bush was ‘very easy’ to ‘easy’ to obtain. Only three KE commented on cannabis. Two reported that use of cannabis was infrequent and only by a few REU, while one KE noted that most REU also used cannabis.

Ketamine
Approximately one-third of the sample had ever tried ketamine, and less than one-fifth of the sample reported having used ketamine in the past six months. All recent ketamine users had used this substance on a less than monthly basis in the past six months, with REU reporting a median of two days of use in this period of time. Swallowing and snorting remained the most popular forms of ketamine administration. The majority of ketamine users quantified their use of this drug in terms of ‘pills/tabs’. Two ‘pills/tabs’ was the median amount of ketamine used by REU in a ‘typical’ session and three ‘pills/tabs’ in the ‘heaviest’ session of use in the past six months. Reflecting the low levels of ketamine use among ACT REU, only small proportions of the sample reported having used ketamine during binge sessions of substance use or in combination with ecstasy.

The median reported price for a pill of ketamine decreased slightly from $30 in 2005 to $25 per pill in 2006. Despite this change, the majority of REU believed that the price of ketamine had remained stable over the previous six months. REU reported that the purity of ketamine was ‘medium’ to ‘high’. Consistent with previous years, REU were divided in terms of their response to the current ease of availability of ketamine in the ACT. Known dealers and friends were the primary sources through which REU obtained ketamine in the past six months. Three KE commented that a few REU also used ketamine, whilst one KE reported that half of REU would also use ketamine. Two KE reported that there had been an increase in use of ketamine in the six months preceding interview.

GHB
The data that have been collected for the ACT EDRS since 2003 suggest that GHB is a drug that is used infrequently by ACT REU. As in previous years, only a minority of the 2006 EDRS sample reported lifetime or recent use of GHB. Recent users reported a median of one day of GHB use in the six months prior to interview, and swallowing was the universal mode of administration. The median amount of GHB used for a ‘typical’ session was reported to be 25 millilitres and 30 millilitres for the ‘heaviest’ session. Two participants reported that they had used GHB during extended binge episodes of drug use, or regularly in combination with ecstasy.

Only ten respondents were able to comment on the price, purity and availability of GHB in the ACT in 2006, and results therefore need to be interpreted with caution. Four KE reported that a few REU had also used GHB in the six months preceding interview, and five KE reported that there had been an increase in the use of GHB amongst REU in the six months prior to interview.

LSD
Almost one-third of the 2006 EDRS sample reported the recent use of LSD, and almost half the sample reported ever having used LSD. The majority of recent LSD users had used this substance on a less than monthly basis in the previous six months, and reported a median of 1.5 days of use during this period of time. Swallowing was the universal mode of administration. REU had used a median of one ‘tab’ of LSD in a ‘typical’ session and 1.5 ‘tabs’ during the ‘heaviest’ sessions of recent use. One in ten REU who reported having recently binged on ecstasy and related drugs had used LSD during these binge episodes, and no REU reported ‘typically’ using LSD in combination with ecstasy.

The median price for a ‘tab’ of LSD has remained stable in the ACT since 2003 at $20 per tab. REU estimated the current purity of LSD to be at ‘high’ levels and reported that the purity of LSD had remained stable over the past six months. There were mixed reports regarding the current availability of LSD in the ACT in 2006. LSD was most commonly purchased by REU from known dealers and friends in the six months prior to interview.

MDA
In 2006, approximately one-quarter reported lifetime use of MDA, although only a minority reported recent use of MDA. Among those REU who had recently used MDA, the median days of use in the past six months was two. The majority of recent users had swallowed MDA with approximately half of recent users reporting having snorted MDA. The median amount of MDA used in a ‘typical’ episode of use was one capsule, which increased to 1.25 capsules in the ‘heaviest’ episode of recent use (Buckingham et al., 2005, Rushforth, 2003, Ward and Proudfoot, 2004).

As in 2005, only a small number of respondents were able to comment on the current price, purity and availability of MDA. Therefore, the following results should be interpreted with caution. The median reported price of MDA remained stable in the ACT at $50 per ‘cap’. All of the respondents, who were able to comment on MDA, reported that the current purity was at ‘high’ levels. The reports of REU suggested that MDA was difficult to obtain in the ACT. In the past six months, REU had primarily obtained MDA through known dealers and friends.

Patterns of other drug use
Almost the entire sample had used alcohol in the six months prior to interview. Alcohol was commonly used (in many cases to excess) in the context of ecstasy use and also to facilitate the ecstasy ‘comedown’. Approximately two-fifths of those REU who reported bingeing on ecstasy and related drugs in the past six months had used alcohol during these binges. As observed by KE, the use of tobacco was common in the EDRS population. As in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 PDI, the use of other drugs such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants and ‘other opiates’ was minimal in the 2006 REU sample. Furthermore, the proportion of the sample that had recently used inhalants remained at the similar low levels reported in the 2005 PDI.

Drug information-seeking behaviour
Just under half of the sample reported that they had actively tried to gain information on the drugs they purchased (excluding ecstasy) prior to taking them. In terms of seeking information on the content of ecstasy tablets, a much higher proportion of the sample (71%) reported that they actively sought information on the contents of the ecstasy they had purchased. Of those REU who did find out about the content of their ecstasy, the most common methods of obtaining information were asking friends, asking their dealer, and asking other people. Approximately one-third of those REU who obtained information on the content of their ecstasy tablets reported using testing kits as a source of information. Almost two-fifths of this group reported that they were aware the use of testing kits had limitations.

Risk behaviour
Seventeen percent of REU reported ever having injected a drug, and 15% reported injecting drugs in the six months prior to interview. A median of seven drugs had ever been injected by this minority, and those who reported having injected in the past six months had also injected a median of three drugs. Almost half the lifetime injectors reported that they were under the influence of other drugs the first time they ever injected. When asked how they first learnt to inject, the majority of lifetime injectors reported that their friends or partner had taught them.

Over one-third of the 2006 EDRS sample reported that they had not been vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus (HBV). A similar proportion (40%) had completed the HBV vaccination schedule, 9% reported that they had started but not finished the HBV schedule, and 15% were unsure of whether they had completed the schedule. Almost half the sample reported that they had never been tested for the hepatitis C virus (HCV), 36% of the sample had been tested in the previous twelve months, and 12% had been tested more than twelve months ago. A minority (6%) of the sample were unsure as to whether they had ever been tested for HCV. Forty-nine percent of participants indicated that they had been tested for the human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) at some point in their lifetime, and two participants identified as HIV positive.

Almost the entire sample reported having had penetrative sex in the six months prior to interview. The majority (72%) of sexually active REU reported having sex with two or more partners in the past six months. Approximately one-quarter (28%) of sexually active participants in this year’s sample had recently (in the past six months) engaged in anal sex. The majority (80%) of sexually active REU reported having sex while under the influence of ecstasy and/or related drugs in the past six months.

Eighty-four percent of those REU who had driven a car in the past six months had driven under the influence of an illicit drug and 44% had done so while over the legal limit of alcohol. Ecstasy was the most common illicit drug that REU reported driving under the influence of, followed by cannabis and methamphetamine powder.

Health-related issues
Nineteen percent of the sample reported that they had ever overdosed on ecstasy or related drugs and 3% of the sample reported having overdosed on ecstasy or related drugs in the past six months. One participant each overdosed on MDA, alcohol and crystal methamphetamine. Two REU who had recently overdosed reported the use of other drugs at the time of overdose.

Drug-related problems
A minority of the sample (10%) had experienced legal/police problems in the preceding six months and approximately one-third of the sample reported that they had recently experienced relationship/social problems (39%) or financial problems (37%) due to their drug use in the past six months. The drug-related problems most frequently experienced by REU in 2006 were occupational/study problems, with over one in three (40%) REU having experienced these problems in the six months prior. Ecstasy was the drug that REU most commonly attributed their experience of problems to.

Criminal activity, policing and market changes
In 2006, REU were asked about ecstasy possession and the law. Just under half reported that they knew how much ecstasy one would have to be in possession of to be charged with supply by police. REU, who were able to comment, reported that a median of 3.5 tablets of ecstasy, regardless of MDMA purity, was the amount that would qualify as supply. Again, just under half reported that they were aware of the consequences of being charged with supply, and a prison sentence was nominated by the majority of the REU who were able to comment. Just over half reported that there was a difference between obtaining tablets for oneself or for friends, and the majority reported that this would result in a ‘heavier’ penalty.

Over one-third (38%) of the 2006 EDRS sample reported having engaged in some form of criminal activity in the month prior to interview, which was an increase when compared to 29% reporting recent criminal activity in 2005. Under one-third (29%), of those who reported they committed a crime, reported that they had been involved in drug dealing in the six months preceding interview, 11% reported that they had committed a property crime, and 8% reported that they had committed a violent crime. Only one REU reported that they had committed a fraud in the six months preceding interview. Approximately one in ten REU reported that they had been arrested in the 12 months preceding interview. The majority of REU indicated that they were unable to comment on changes to the level of recent police activity, or that the level of police activity had remained stable, or increased. As in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 PDI, only a minority of the sample reported that recent police activity had made it more difficult for them to score illicit drugs.

REU were asked about their experiences with drug detection (‘sniffer’) dogs, for the first time in 2006. Just under half had seen sniffer dogs in the six months preceding interview. Over half reported that they hid their drugs better if they knew the sniffer dogs would be at an event. Over two-thirds reported that they had had drugs on them when they had seen sniffer dogs, and the majority reported they either walked away and avoided the dogs or did nothing (i.e. did not change their behaviour). REU reported that if they saw the dogs whilst they had drugs on them they would take them so they couldn’t be detected, avoid the dogs, or not change their behaviour.

Implications
The 2006 ACT EDRS highlighted a number of issues that warrant mention in relation to the use of ecstasy and related drugs in the Territory. The first is the level of sexual risk-taking observed among this group. Significant proportions of the sample this year reported having unsafe sex with a ‘regular’ sex partner under the influence of ecstasy and related drugs. STI rates continue to rise in Australia, and – given that the majority of REU had multiple sexual partners in the past six months – this group appears to be at increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Second, nearly three-quarters of the sample also reported having driven under the influence of ecstasy and related drugs in the previous six months. In light of the high levels of self-reported drug driving reported by the sample, it is important that credible campaigns designed to educate this population about the risks associated with drug driving are implemented.

Citation: Campbell, G. & Degenhardt, L. (2007) ACT Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2006: Findings from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

Resources

Date Commenced
27 Mar 2007
Resource Type
Technical Reports