It’s that time of the year again when people are winding up the party season with their final big bang -“ the Mardi Gras party and everything that goes with it. For some people this will involve the use of alcohol and other drugs; for some it will not. For many years health educators have attempted to give those people who use drugs tips on how to stay safe -“ we call this harm reduction.
The harm reduction approach to alcohol and other drug issues is extremely simple. It acknowledges that there is a spectrum of drug use from no use to use at a hazardous level. It needs to be quite clearly stated that the best way to avoid problems with drugs is not to use them. However, if you choose to use them it is important to do so in the safest way possible. There are no safe ways -“ although some ways are safer than others.
Years ago the messages we gave to people who used drugs were quite simple. These messages included drink lots of fluids, split the dose and take regular breaks. However, as drug-taking practices and the drugs themselves have changed, the messages have altered also. They have become far more complicated and, as a result, some drug users have tended to ignore them.
For a long time the water message was simple -“ drink lots of fluids. Then in 1995 after the death of a Sydney teenager caused by water intoxication, things changed. The message changed to drink lots of fluids, but not too much. This has since been changed to 500ml per hour if you’re actively exerting yourself, and 250ml per hour if you’re not.
The rest of this column will look at the six most popular drugs most likely to be used in the coming weekend (excluding tobacco) and attempt to give three simple harm-reduction tips for each one.
ALCOHOL
The most popular legal drug in Australia with almost 90 percent of the population ever having tried it. The major risks are associated with disinhibition and driving while under the influence.
Always start your evening with a non-alcoholic drink. You will drink much faster if you are thirsty, so start with a water or soft drink to quench your thirst.
Pace yourself. Space alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
If you know you’re going to drink, never take your car keys with you and hide some money away in your wallet for the cab ride home.

CANNABIS
Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug both in Australia and around the world. Almost a third of all Australians have tried the drug. Most people will not experience major problems with cannabis but some with a predisposition to mental illness will find that it can unlock conditions such as schizophrenia.
Don’t smoke and drive. Cannabis can be identified in a blood test for at least a month -“ police have the right to take you to a hospital for a blood test if they believe your driving is impaired, even if you don’t have a positive blood alcohol content.
Sniffer dogs can detect cannabis easily -“ don’t carry the drug around on you as you will get caught.
Try not to mix cannabis with other hallucinogens, particularly LSD. Some people find the mix causes unpleasant hallucinogenic effects and higher anxiety and paranoia levels.

ECSTASY
Ecstasy continues to be a very popular drug on the party scene; in fact, ecstasy use has trebled in Australia since 1995. Most ecstasy users are looking for MDMA when they buy a pill but actually have no way of knowing what it is they are actually taking. This is one of the major problems when attempting to give effective messages to ecstasy users.
Take a break from strenuous activity, like dancing, at least once an hour. Make sure your body temperature is able to drop to a satisfactory level.
Keep hydrated; if you are losing fluids (e.g. sweating, or going to the toilet a lot) make sure you replace that fluid. If you are not, even though you feel thirsty, take small sips of water to quench your thirst.
If you must wear any sort of hat or scarf over your head, take it off at least once an hour. The top of your head is where you lose most of your body heat -“ a hat can trap this heat and cause you to overheat.

CRYSTAL
Crystal or meth can come as a fine white powder, similar to speed, or as clear, almost liquid-like, rice grains. It can be taken by swallowing, snorting, smoking, anally or by injecting, although it would appear that more gay Sydneysiders are smoking it by way of a pipe.
If you are going to buy crystal, buy it in very small amounts. This is a very moreish drug and people find themselves going on binges -“ the smaller amount you have, the less you will use
Stock up on condoms, gloves and lube. This is a very sexual drug and often a crystal user becomes so disinhibited they forget the basics around safe sex.
If you are going to use Viagra, don’t use amyl as well. Viagra and amyl are a lethal combination and must be avoided at all times.

KETAMINE
Ketamine or Special K is an anaesthetic used in both human and surgical procedures. It can produce quite profound hallucinations and if too much is used, users may find themselves in a k hole, an anaesthetised state which can be very frightening.
Don’t share bump bottles. There is evidence that some blood-borne viruses may be transmitted by small amounts of blood from the nasal passages collecting to the top of the bottle.
Alcohol and ketamine don’t mix. Although you may know many people who do use this combination and don’t have problems, when things do go wrong it is usually the alcohol that will make the experience far worse and the vomiting last for much longer.
That one bump too many can actually be caused by your nose being blocked. Rinse your nose out regularly to ensure that you’re not keeping an extra supply up there which could suddenly move and make you very sick.

GHB
Gamma hydroxy-butyrate or GHB is fast becoming very popular on the Sydney gay scene. It’s a powerful depressant and disinhibitor, and if a user takes too much GHB or the strength is greater than they are used to, they may find themselves unconscious. Add another depressant to the mix and death is a possibility.
Try not to mix your suppliers. If you are getting your G from one source you are more likely to be getting a relatively similar dose each time, although there are no guarantees. Some manufacturers water their G down far more than others -“ you have no way of knowing the strength until you have taken it.
If someone has overdosed, don’t give them other drugs to bring them around. This is extremely dangerous and if anything was to happen to them, you could be held responsible.
The most basic rule is don’t use any other depressant with G -“ this includes alcohol, any sleeping tablets and even cannabis.
There are two rules that are standard and should never be forgotten and if you take nothing else away with you, these could save a life. Firstly, if anything goes wrong, seek medical help immediately, and secondly, look after yourself, look after your friends. These two tips have been the catchcry of the gay and lesbian partying community for many years -“ let’s hope we don’t lose sight of them.
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?Happy Mardi Gras!

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