This is an abridged version of Australian News prepared before editorial staff left to undertake overseas prayer assignments. The full version of Australian News will return on Wednesday 5th June.
The proportion of high school students using ecstasy has more than doubled in three years, prompting a leading drug educator to warn about the normalisation of the illicit drug’s use among young people. Paul Dillon, the founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, said the latest Australian Secondary School Students’ Alcohol and Other Drug study revealed an “alarming” increase in the consumption of ecstasy by students. Ecstasy use among students aged between 12 and 17 has increased from 2 per cent in 2011 to 5 per cent in 2017, according to a study of almost 20,000 high school students.
Mr Dillon said he was concerned about the blasé attitude of students towards MDMA (the main ingredient in ecstasy). “All drugs have risks and the minute you don’t have respect for drugs, you start doing things that are much more dangerous,” he said. “We’re going to see young people die.” The survey of almost 20,000 high school students around Australia found 16 per cent of 17-year-old boys had tried ecstasy in 2017 compared to 9.2 per cent three years earlier. The proportion of 17-year-old girls who had consumed the party drug increased from 4.7 per cent in 2014 to 9 per cent in 2017.
Cocaine use by 16 and 17 year olds increased from 3 to 5 per cent between 2014 and 2017, but the use of other illicit substances appeared stable and consumption of alcohol and tobacco declined. The study found high levels of students using multiple substances such as alcohol and cannabis (58 per cent) or cannabis and ecstasy (43 per cent) at the same time. It also found much higher rates of substance use by high school students with a mental health diagnosis. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said any increase in drug use was concerning.
Other studies have found young drug users are shifting towards higher purity ecstasy and an increase in the number of MDMA poisoning cases in NSW. Mr Dillon, a drug educator for more than 25 years, said ecstasy was readily available through friendship networks and could be purchased by students for as little as $10. Some students he encountered seemed to believe there was little risk in consuming large amounts of ecstasy in the mistaken belief that MDMA was safe. Mr Dillon also expressed concern about the use of DIY pill-testing kits such as the EZ test to find out the contents of a pill, questioning whether young people were able to accurately interpret the results.
He said the increased use of ecstasy by young people would lead to fatalities beyond the nightclubs and music festivals where drug reform campaigners and some politicians have called for the introduction of pill testing. Mr Dillon supports pill testing because it provides information about the contents of the drug that is tested, but he does not believe it is a “silver bullet” to prevent festival deaths.
Mr Dillon said the study revealed three concerning drug trends among students: the normalisation of ecstasy, and increasing use of cannabis and inhalants such as nitrous oxide.
“When people don’t have respect for drugs or perceive there is some kind of risk involved, that’s when you see tragedies occur,” Mr Dillon said. Melinda Lucas, a spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said the use of ecstasy by secondary students is low, but “it is important for everyone to understand that is no safe level of drug use and any use increases the risk of harms such as accidents, injuries and overdose”. “It is important young people understand that taking drugs is not the norm, only a small number of high school students consume illicit drugs,” she said.