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NDARC has reported on illicit drug trends among Australians in 2018, including growth in use of cocaine and higher purity ecstasy

Use of cocaine and higher purity forms of ecstasy and methamphetamine is on the rise among people who use drugs, reports UNSW’s National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).

NDARC released the latest snapshot of illicit drug users in Australia at its annual symposium this week.

The sample included 799 participants in 2018 who use ecstasy and other stimulants and were recruited from Australian capital cities.

Around one in four reported high use of ecstasy.

Recent use of crystal and capsule forms of ecstasy – reported by consumers to be of higher purity than pills – has grown in the past 15 years to 62% and 72% respectively in 2018.

“Thinking about ecstasy, mostly [consumers are] saying price and availability are relatively stable,” explains Dr Amy Peacock, who is the Program Lead for Drug Trends at NDARC.

Source: NDARC

“We’re seeing an increasing number of drug seizures – both at the border and nationally.”

Dr Peacock says her team has also seen “quite an increase in the use of cocaine, although this is quite low frequency use.”

Their data shows cocaine use increased from 48% reporting any use in the last six months in 2017, to 59% in 2018.

However only 7% of the sample used cocaine weekly or more frequently.

There seems to be greater availability of cocaine at the moment, Dr Peacock says, and people are mostly using powder form.

Source: NDARC

Half (51%) of the sample reported use of LSD; one in three (35%) reported use of ketamine; and one in five (18%) reported use of capsules with unknown contents in the past six months.

In the last six months, nearly all participants reported use of alcohol (98%), 90% reported use of cannabis, and 85% used tobacco (44% of these daily use).

While methamphetamine use was low among the sample of stimulant users, a sentinel sample of people who inject drugs interviewed separately revealed a “striking” trend in use of crystal methamphetamine—another higher purity form.

In this same sample, there was a slight decline in heroin use and a decline in injection of pharmaceutical opioids.

Dr Peacock cautions that the results are not reflective of the drug use of all Australians, however the trend toward greater use of higher purity forms ecstasy and methamphetamine among the samples is cause for concern.

“Use of higher purity stimulants can increase the risk of experiencing acute and long-term negative health effects,” she says.

“Acute effects may include dehydration, increased or irregular heart rate, agitation, headaches, and seizures. 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 do not 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.”

She says 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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