Pure addiction

Use of cocaine and higher-purity forms of ecstasy and methamphetamine is increasing among samples of people who use drugs, according to the 2018 Drug Trends National Reports from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney.

The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS), which includes annual interviews with people who regularly use ecstasy and other stimulants, has shown that cocaine use continues to increase, from 48 per cent of respondents reporting any use in the six months before being interviewed in 2017 to 59 per cent in 2018.

This year, recent use of crystal and capsule forms of ecstasy, reported by consumers to be of higher purity than pills, was reported at some of the highest levels since the EDRS interviews began in 2003 (72 per cent and 62 per cent respectively

Half (51 per cent) of the EDRS participants reported use of LSD, one in three (35 per cent) reported use of ketamine, and one in five (18 per cent) reported use of capsules with unknown contents in the previous six months.

Use of heroin has remained relatively stable among EDRS participants, with 54 per cent reporting recent use in 2018. Twenty per cent of participants self-reported a non-fatal overdose in the last year. An increasing number reported knowing about and using naloxone (a medication available over the counter at pharmacies which can be used by anyone to reverse the effects of an overdose).

NDARC Program Lead for Drug Trends Dr Amy Peacock says she believes the trend towards greater use of forms described as higher purity among these samples is cause for concern.

“Acute effects may include dehydration, increased or irregular heart rate, agitation, headaches, and seizures,” she said. “Use over long periods of time without sleep or in combination with other substances can increase the risk of these types of effects.

“In terms of long-term harms, we know that people who report heavy stimulant use typically don’t engage with treatment, or do so intermittently. Part of the issue is the lack of good treatment options for stimulant dependence, although there are trials currently underway in Australia exploring efficacy of various medications.

“A positive finding is the increased awareness and use of naloxone among the sample of people who regularly inject drugs, although ideally in the future we would hope that everyone who participates knows about naloxone, can access it, and carries it with them in their day-to-day lives.”

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