A study was recently released by researchers from St George’s Hospital Medical School at the University of London examining 202 ecstasy-related fatalities that had occurred in the UK from the period 1996 to 2002. The British media latched onto the dramatic increase in drug deaths that have occurred in that country and attributed them to the increasing use of ecstasy. However, this piece of research challenged that and attributed the deaths more closely to polydrug use.

Polydrug use means using more than one drug at once. An example of polydrug use would be having a drink of alcohol and then lighting up a joint or taking ecstasy and having a bump of Special K. This type of drug use appears to be the norm now -“ and many people who use drugs don’t think twice about using an assortment of drugs in combination. It is important to remember that when you use one illegal drug alone you may be already inadvertently taking a cocktail of drugs. This is particularly true of ecstasy pills which may contain any number of substances including MDMA. Other drugs that may be in the mix include caffeine, ephedrine or ketamine. We also know most ecstasy currently available in Australia contains methamphetamine or speed.

The researchers in the UK found that, of the 202 deaths, only 17 percent (34) involved ecstasy alone (an average of less than 6 a year). All the rest involved a range of other drugs, with heroin and other opiates implicated in 48 percent and stimulants (such as speed and cocaine) in 25 percent of the other deaths.

We know that mixing substances is one of the riskiest ways of using drugs, but the practice appears to be growing in popularity, particularly among party drug users. The Party Drug Initiative (PDI) is the first national project conducted in every capital city of every state and territory in Australia to monitor emerging trends in party drug markets. The results of the PDI were released last week and the results showed that a significant proportion of the 809 party drug users interviewed have experimented with a range of illicit drugs. The use of drugs such as speed, crystal, ketamine and GHB were reported by users right across the country.

The question is often asked if the gay scene has a greater drug problem than the general community. This study quite clearly shows that a significant proportion of party drug users, regardless of what scene they’re involved with, use a variety of drugs. The newer drugs such as K, G and crystal may show up first within the gay community but they are quickly taken up by the straight scene. We can only hope some of the lessons we have learnt in the recent past will be adopted by the straight scene to prevent some of the problems we have experienced.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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