More than four in 10 people who regularly use ecstasy and one in 10 people who regularly inject drugs have ever tested their drugs, mostly by using personal testing kits, according to a new survey by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney.
The Drug Trends program at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) has surveyed people who regularly use illicit drugs about drug checking the contents of their illicit drugs, and their illicit drug use at Australian music festivals.
“These findings reinforce previous research that people who use illicit drugs want information about the content of their substances,” said Program Lead, Dr Amy Peacock.
“However, qualitative information obtained from personal test kits, like the presence or absence of a drug, is limited. Information about the range of substances contained and the dose is necessary to inform harm reduction behaviours to reduce risks from high-dose MDMA or adulterants.”
Among people who regularly use ecstasy, 68% had attended a music festival in the last year. Nearly all (93%) of people sampled who had regularly used ecstasy in the past six months and had also been to festival reported using illicit drugs at the last festival they attended.
“It is important to note that these findings are from a sample of people who regularly use ecstasy, and do not represent all music festival attendees," Dr Peacock said.
“Most of the people we sampled who had attended a festival were aware of on-site medical services, and also of policing and security initiatives like bag checking and patrolling police. Smaller numbers were aware of drug information and harm reduction services.”
“Music festivals represent a unique setting to engage with people who may not otherwise come into contact with services offering harm reduction information about illicit drug use. There is an opportunity to increase access to, and awareness of, these services at festivals.”
The Drug Trends program conducts annual interviews with people who regularly use ecstasy and other stimulants for the Ecstasy and related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) and people who regularly inject drugs for the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS).
“NDARC has coordinated the Drug Trends program since 1996 and its ongoing monitoring systems are key to identifying emerging problems in substance use in Australia,” said Dr Peacock.
“The program also represents a unique opportunity to gather information about current issues such as drug checking and illicit drug use and awareness of safety initiatives at music festivals.”
Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS)
The 2019 EDRS interviewed 797 people who regularly use ecstasy and other stimulants, recruited from all capital cities of Australia. Participants were predominantly young males who have completed a post-school qualification.
Dr Peacock said key findings from the 2019 EDRS show a significant increase in the use of cocaine and ketamine among the sample relative to 2018.
“The largest percentage of participants since the commencement of monitoring reported recent use of cocaine (67%) and more than two in five people (41%) reported recent use of ketamine. However, most people in this sample who had used these substances reported infrequent use in the last six months,” said Dr Peacock.
Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS)
The 2019 IDRS interviewed 902 people who regularly inject drugs, recruited from all capital cities of Australia. Participants were predominantly male with a mean age of 44.
“Major findings from the 2019 IDRS report include an increase in the percentage who reported being trained in how to administer naloxone, a drug available over-the-counter in pharmacies that can be used to reverse opioid overdose,” said Dr Peacock.
“Three in 10 participants had been trained in administering naloxone, and nearly one in 20 participants had been resuscitated by someone who had participated in naloxone training.
“This is a positive sign, but also highlights the opportunity to increase this percentage further, and make sure people who are at risk of having or witnessing an overdose have access to naloxone.”
Crystal methamphetamine use, routes of administration and use of commercial ball pipes among people who inject drugs in Australia
Of the 2019 IDRS sample, 19 percent of participants who had smoked crystal methamphetamine in the past six months had difficulty accessing a commercial ball pipe. Of these people, 63% had injected instead and 44% used a homemade pipe.
“Difficulties accessing commercial ball pipes lead to greater frequency of injection and use of homemade pipes among this sample,” said Dr Peacock.
“The use of homemade pipes can result in various harms including cuts, burns, blisters and open sores inside the mouth.”
Key findings from the 2019 national EDRS and IDRS interviews are being released today at the 2019 NDARC Annual Research Symposium at UNSW Sydney.
Pill testing and behavioural responses among a sample of Australians who use drugs
- More than four in 10 EDRS participants (45%) and one in 10 IDRS participants (11%) had ever tested their drugs.
- One in three EDRS participants (36%) and one in five IDRS participants (6%) had done so in the last year.
- Most of those who had tested their drugs in the last year had used a personal testing kit last time.
Illicit drug use and awareness of health and policing initiatives at Australian music festivals among people who regularly use ecstasy and other illicit stimulants
- Seven in 10 EDRS participants (68%) had attended a music festival in the last year.
- Nearly all of this group (97%) had used alcohol or other drugs at the last festival they had attended, and 93% had used illicit drugs.
- Nine in 10 people (87%) who had attended a festival were aware of on-site medical services at the last festival they attended. Only one in three (36%) were aware of drug information services and of harm reduction messaging.
The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS)
- Cocaine: A significant increase in recent cocaine use was observed in 2019 relative to 2018, with the largest percentage of participants reporting past six month use since the commencement of monitoring in 2003 (67%). Frequency of use remained low.
- Ketamine: Recent use of ketamine significantly increased from 2018 to 2019 with over two-fifths (41%) reporting past six month use, although frequency of use was low.
- E-cigarettes: The highest percentage of use since monitoring of e-cigarettes first began in 2014 was observed in 2019. 40% of the 2019 sample had used e-cigarettes in the six months preceding interview. Most reported using e-cigarettes containing nicotine.
- Amyl nitrite: A significant increase was observed given 38% of the sample had recently used amyl nitrite compared to 22% in 2018. People typically reported using it on a monthly basis.
- Mental health: Over half (57%) of the national sample self-reported that they had experienced a mental health problem in the preceding six months (other than drug dependence), a significant increase since 2018 (47%).
The Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS)
- Heroin: The percentage of the sample in each jurisdiction reporting recent heroin use varied substantially, from less than 5% of participants recruited in the Northern Territory to 85% of participants in Victoria.
- Crystal methamphetamine: Nearly half the participants reported using methamphetamine weekly or more frequently in the past six months.
- Pharmaceutical opioids: Despite a decline in use, morphine is still the pharmaceutical opioid of choice for non-prescribed usage. In 2019, 18% of the national sample had recently used morphine non-prescribed in the past six months (versus 22% in 2018). One in 10 participants (9%) reported non-prescribed use of fentanyl in the past six months, similar to estimates in 2018.
- Other medicines: Two in five participants (18%) reported recent non-prescribed pregabalin use, one in three (32%) non-prescribed benzodiazepine use and one in 10 (9%) non-prescribed antipsychotic use.
- 19% of IDRS participants who had smoked crystal methamphetamine in the past six months had difficulty accessing a commercial ball pipe on one or more occasion in the past six months.
Read the full NDARC Drug Trends report.