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Cocaine, ketamine use on the rise: survey

Fewer Australians took ecstasy in 2021 but cocaine and ketamine use is on the rise, a new study indicates.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW on Friday released a report based on annual surveys of hundreds of people who regularly use drugs in Australia.

Out of the 774 interviewed who regularly take ecstasy and other illegal stimulants, the use of cocaine increased significantly in the past six months from 68 per cent in 2020 to 80 per cent in 2021.

It is the highest percentage of reported usage since monitoring began.

The use of ketamine also increased from 43 per cent in 2020 to 52 per cent in 2021, also a record.

The frequency of use of both drugs, however, remains low.

According to the survey, the use of all forms of ecstasy decreased, with capsule use down from 83 per cent in 2020 to 70 per cent in 2021, pills down from 53 per cent to 42 per cent and powder down from 35 to 26 per cent.

The report noted the price of ecstasy significantly increased in 2021, while there was a significant decline in the perceived purity and availability of ecstasy capsules and crystal among those surveyed, suggesting a disruption to the MDMA market compared to 2020.

Research lead Dr Rachel Sutherland said some people could have reduced their use of ecstasy due to fewer music festivals, dance parties and social gatherings amid the pandemic.

“This means there could now be a decrease in people’s tolerance to ecstasy,” she said.

“As we come out of lockdown, and people start to resume or increase their use of drugs like ecstasy, there may be increased risk of overdose.”

A second survey included interviews with 888 people who regularly inject drugs and found 80 per cent of participants reported using methamphetamine in the past six months, an increase of eight per cent since 2020.

The frequency of use increased from a median of 48 days in 2020 to 72 days in 2021.

The cost of a point of ice decreased from $100 in 2020 to $50 in 2021, which is similar to prices observed between 2016 and 2019, while respondents said the purity was “high” and availability “easy” or “very easy”.

“Last year, our findings seemed to indicate that there was a disruption to the methamphetamine market. It appears that the market may have since recovered, although there are likely to be jurisdictional differences and ongoing fluctuations,” Dr Sutherland said.

She said the researchers are concerned the recovery of the market, combined with an increase in use, could lead to more hospitalisations and demand for treatment.

“Given that many of these services are already at capacity, greater investment in methamphetamine treatment and support is critical,” Dr Sutherland said.

Most of the surveys used in the report occurred before the current wave of COVID-19 cases and government restrictions.

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