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Other Drugs - Purchasing and Use Patterns

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Most respondents were regular users and buyers of cannabis, an in-built bias of the sample. The most usual definition of "regular use" is "used in the last week" and of "occasional" is "used in the last year," but our questionnaire allowed for a greater range of possibilities, and for making distinctions between use and purchase data. We asked separate questions about use and purchase, and included brief questions about tea/coffee, tobacco, and alcohol, for comparison. (Tables 31-34)

The majority of users of other illegal drugs, apart than heroin, were occasional buyers, purchasing less than twice per month.

Ecstasy and amphetamine were the most commonly purchased illegal drugs other than cannabis, with a quarter of all users buying these drugs monthly or more often. Monthly, fortnightly or weekly purchases were the most common patterns in each case.

Roughly one in six would buy LSD monthly or more often, with 7.1% buying ecstasy and 6.3% buying amphetamine on a weekly basis or more often.

The only illegal drug with a significant proportion of users buying daily was heroin, with nearly half of the 14 "regular users" buying daily. The vast majority of those who reported ever using heroin had used it very few times. This was similar to the patterns of use reported in 1994 and 1984.

Those users who reported purchasing less than once a month fall into two distinct categories: those who only use occasionally and buy small amounts, and a small number of regular users buying bulk supplies at a discount. Bulk buying is more likely where particularly attractive prices are offered, or where the supply of a particular drug is intermittent (e.g. LSD) or seasonal (e.g. mushrooms). The low cost of LSD in quantity and long "shelf-life" makes "bulk" purchase for personal use a viable option.

It was not possible to analyse purchase quantities or deal prices by frequency due to the low incidence or absence of data points in this sample. These questions will be repeated in future surveys allowing analysis of the consolidated data set at a later date.

Prevalence of use of drugs other than cannabis was similar to those in previous surveys, with amphetamine, mushrooms and LSD the most commonly tried. The incidence of ecstasy use has also increased by 7.2%, but now appears to be reaching saturation level (93%) with a smaller proportion of non-users willing to try it if offered. Lifetime amphetamine use increased by 1.2%. The increases in ecstasy and heroin appear to reflect an increased level of use in the wider population, when set against the overall decline in prevalence of most drugs which would reflect differences in sampling (i.e. no "reform" or "subculture magazine" mailings in 1997). The lifetime prevalence of heroin use within the sample was lower than in surveys in 1984 and 1994, down to 12.9% from 14.4% in 1994 and from 21% in 1984. The incidence of daily heroin use remained similar to that found in both previous surveys at under 1%.

Among the respondents, those who would never try drugs not yet used outnumbered those who might be willing to experiment for all drugs except magic mushrooms. The saturation level of the market for each drug was calculated from the total of those currently using or having given up divided by the total potential use including those who had not yet used the drug but would be willing to try.

Markets with 95% saturation or more included caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, LSD, amphetamine and solvents, with Mushrooms and Ecstasy also over 90% saturated. Although the saturation levels of heroin, crack, barbiturates and tranquillisers were lower, this reflected lower levels of current use, and the maximum potential increase in prevalence of these drugs would represent 3% of the total sample or less.

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