The annual Drug Trends survey paints a developing picture of drug use in Australia.
Australians are edging toward higher-purity forms of ecstasy and using cocaine at some of the highest-ever recorded levels, according to a new survey of drug users.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's (NDARC) 2018 Drug Trends reports, produced through hundreds of interviews with drug users living across Australia's capital cities, found one in four respondents (27 per cent) reported at least one instance of ecstasy use in the last six months.
Researchers said use of the higher-purity crystal (72 per cent) and capsule forms (62 per cent) of ecstasy was reported at high levels.
They also found evidence cocaine use is at the highest-ever recorded level since the annual Drug Trends reports began in 2003.
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents (59 per cent) reported using cocaine in the past six months, up from 48 per cent during the last phase of interviews in 2017.
The reports were compiled using data from 799 respondents (59 per cent male) with an average age of 21, so while not representative of drug use among the general population, they do help provide early warnings of trends.
“It is of concern, particularly when people are using over a long period of time or when people are mixing these stimulants with other substances,” Dr Amy Peacock, a career fellow at the NDARC, said in a briefing on the survey.
Crystal and capsule forms are of higher purity than pills, because they are harder to mix with other substances when mass produced.
While only seven per cent of those surveyed used cocaine at least once a week and there is no indication more people are being harmed by the drug, Dr Peacock said cocaine appears to be getting easier to find.
"When we asked participants about the perceived availability of cocaine, 62 per cent of consumers said they thought it was ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ just to obtain."
One in five respondents said they bought drugs of any kind on the internet.
“20 per cent of those surveyed told us they purchased substances online in the past year, primary from dark web marketplaces,” NDARC Senior Research Officer Rachel Sutherland said.
Ecstasy, cannabis and LSD remained the most commonly purchased drugs online, Ms Sutherland said.
Nine in 10 participants reported using depressants (such as cannabis and alcohol) or hallucinogens (such as psychedelic mushrooms and LSD) the last time they use a stimulant.
Just over 50 per cent of participants (51 per cent) reported at least one incident in which they used LSD in the past six months, while one in three (35 per cent) reported the same for ketamine use.
One in five (18 per cent) reported use of capsules with unknown contents in the past six months, something researchers said is “alarming”.
The research comes as debate rages about so-called 'pill testing' in Australia, a harm-minimisation strategy which allows people to find out what exactly is in the drugs they intend to take.
The Australian Medical Association is a supporter of the idea, but a number of senior Coalition politicians remain opposed.
Dr Peacock is also concerned about the long-term harms of drug use.
“We know that people who report heavy stimulant use typically do not engage with treatment or do so intermittently," she said.
"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.”