NDARC Technical Report No. 111 (2001)
This study interviewed 100 people who had ever used ketamine for non-medical reasons. Four topics were addressed: (1) what are the characteristics of the people who use ketamine?; (2) what motivates people to use ketamine?; (3) how is ketamine being used?; and, (4) what are the consequences of using ketamine? Specifically the aims of this project were 1) to identify current patterns of illicit ketamine use; 2) to identify potential harms associated with illicit ketamine use; and 3) to determine the need for interventions and identify appropriate harm reduction strategies for illicit ketamine users in particular community subgroups.
The ketamine users in this sample are a unique sub-group of the illicit drug using population in Australia. They appear to be a part of the growing ‘party drug’ culture in Australia with almost three quarters (73%) of them usually using the drug either at a rave/dance party or a club. Ecstasy and speed are among the most widely used drugs of this population. However, when compared with a previous study of ecstasy users, ketamine users differ in demographic profile and injecting behaviour. In common with other illicit drug users, however, in addition to the reasons for their drug use, they experience a range of negative health and psychological effects of their ketamine use.
In this sample of ketamine users, ketamine appeared to be a drug that had been added to an already extensive drug use repertoire. The three drugs reported as most widely used with ketamine were most closely linked to the party drug scene – ecstasy (ever used with ketamine by 71% of the sample), MDA (62%) and amphetamines (50%). This was supported by the sample’s choice of drugs preferred to use with ketamine, once again ecstasy (74%) and MDA (37%) were the top choices.
Compared to a sample of regular ecstasy users surveyed in 1997, this sample of ketamine users was more likely to be older, male, in full-time employment and living in the inner city. They were a well-educated group of people, many of whom had high incomes.
Many ketamine users had had only a limited use history. Despite this, many had experienced negative side effects, which had meant they had either reduced their dose or stopped use. Nevertheless, significant proportions of this sample reported that their reasons for use related to side effects that might place them at risk of physical injury. Many of the sample reported having injected ketamine at some time, as well as a variety of other drugs. Many of the sample had injected drugs, and while the survey reveals that they were not necessarily placing themselves at risk of HIV infection, they may be susceptible to other blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis C, as well as other injecting risks, such as vein damage.
Efforts to develop harm minimisation messages for this group will need to take into consideration the possibility that a large proportion of the group are well-educated and well-informed in their approach to drug use. This appears to be a risk-taking sample and any efforts to warn users or potential users of the negative side effects of this drug may simply promote future use of ketamine by persons who find these ‘negative’ side effects desirable.