KEY FINDINGS & IMPLICATIONS
This report describes trends in the use of ecstasy & related drugs (ERD) in 2013 in Adelaide, South Australia, and provides comparisons with the findings of the 2012 study. Many characteristics of ERD in the current study were comparable to previous years and remained stable. Indeed, the main findings from the 2013 EDRS seem to be centred on the stabilisation of the ecstasy market. More specifically, after a previous downturn in the ecstasy market, it was noted in 2012 that the market seemed to have re-established itself and this has continued into 2013. Perhaps in response to the stabilisation of the ecstasy market there were significant decreases in the lifetime use of base methamphetamine, crystal methamphetamine, MDA, GHB, unknown capsules and herbal highs; as well as significant decreases in the recent use of base methamphetamine and LSA.
However, despite the decreases noted above, the use of NPS remained common, with 40% of the sample reporting that they had used some form of NPS in the six months preceding interview. This suggests that RPU will continue to experiment with a range of different drugs, regardless of the state of the ecstasy market.
Behaviours such as inconsistent condom use, driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, criminal activity and overdose remained stable in 2013, and continue to carry serious public health concerns. On a more positive note, there was a significant decline in the proportion of participants who had binged on stimulants in the preceding six months.
The findings from the 2013 SA EDRS have policy and research implications, and several recommendations are outlined below. It is worth noting that several of these issues may have already received attention and/or may be in the process of further investigation.
- Despite the apparent stablisation of the ecstasy market, there remain concerns about whether pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ actually contain MDMA. This was highlighted in July 2013, when a bad batch of ecstasy sold in Adelaide resulted in 21 people being hospitalised; analysis revealed that virtually all of these ecstasy pills contained 25I-NBOMe. As such, it is essential that harm reduction messages be promoted among RPU. For example, avoid mixing pills with other substances; keep hydrated (but don’t consume more than one pint/two cups per hour); look after your friends and seek help if needed.
- Although pills remain the dominant form of ecstasy being used, there has been a diversification in the other forms of ecstasy being used. In particular, a quarter of RPU reported that they had used MDMA crystals in the preceding six months. Anecdotally, there have been reports of MDMA crystals being of higher purity than other forms of ecstasy, which in turn may have different health implications for the consumer. As such, it is important that the price, purity and availability of MDMA crystals be monitored separately to pills, powder and capsules.
- The use of new psychoactive substances remains popular among RPU. Given the unknown health and behavioural consequences of using such drugs, it is essential that we continue to monitor this market and assess the associated risks.
- Alcohol and tobacco use remain highly prevalent amongst this sample, with the majority of RPU consuming alcohol at levels that may be considered hazardous. In regards to tobacco, there was a significant decline in lifetime use, whilst the prevalence of tobacco use within the preceding six months remained stable. This may suggest that although current public health campaigns and policies have been effective in reducing the uptake of smoking amongst RPU, they have been less effective in reducing consumption amongst existing consumers. As such, there is a clear need to focus interventions targeting tobacco use amongst this population.
- Polydrug use remains common amongst RPU, with the large majority of participants reporting that they used other drugs in combination with ecstasy. Simultaneous consumption of different drugs can have harmful and unpredictable consequences, and it is therefore important that there is continued education regarding the harms associated with such behaviour.
- Almost half of the sample reported that they had overdosed on either a stimulant or depressant drug in the twelve months preceding interview. This is a serious public health concern, and it is essential that education and harm reduction be developed to address this issue.
- Increased promotion of ‘safe sex’ practices, and sexual health testing, is needed within this population of RPU, especially regarding casual sexual experiences.
Rachel Sutherland, Lucy Burns