Survey highlights 'current popularity of ketamine' with drug 'the substance of choice' at festivals 

Survey highlights 'current popularity of ketamine' with drug 'the substance of choice' at festivals 

Ketamine use was reported by almost one quarter of overall respondents. More than one-third of 18–24-year-old males reported using ketamine last year.

Ketamine is fast becoming one of Ireland's most-used drugs with almost 25% of Irish drug users reporting its use and more than one third of 18–24-year-old males reporting using it last year, according to new research.

The findings were part of the new European Web Survey on Drugs (EWSD) and is the first time Ireland took part in the research. It aims to better understand drug use in the last year, particularly among occasional users and those who use drugs in nightlife settings.

Among the survey sample of people who have used drugs in the last year, cannabis was the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine.

In the last year, 36% of respondents had used one drug, 20% used two different drugs, and 44% used three or more.

Among 18- to 24-year-old respondents, 55% of males and 50% of females had used three or more drugs in the past year.

Among cannabis users, 96% used cannabis herb, almost half used cannabis edibles, one in four used cannabis oil/extract, and one in five used cannabis resin. Cannabis edibles were used by 55% of 18-24-year-olds, and males aged 18-24 were most likely to use greater amounts of cannabis herb. One in four cannabis herb users surveyed use it daily or almost daily, with a further 35% using it at least once a week.

Some 8% of respondents who use cocaine reported frequent or weekly use of cocaine. On the occasions when they use cocaine, weekly users use twice as much cocaine as those who use it less than monthly.

Among the survey respondents who use ecstasy, one in five usually use tablets or pills, 25% usually use powder/crystals, and just over 40% use both. 18–24-year-olds are most likely to use powder or crystals; those aged 35 and over are most likely to use tablets or pills. Just 1% reported using ecstasy weekly, while 90% use it less than once a month.

Ketamine use was reported by almost one quarter of overall respondents. More than one-third of 18–24-year-old males reported using ketamine last year.

Commenting on these findings, Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services at the HSE said: “The survey has been a useful tool to capture emerging drug trends such as the current popularity of ketamine.

“These findings support what we are witnessing across festivals this summer, with ketamine appearing as the substance of choice, often used as part of a polysubstance pattern with stimulant drugs MDMA and cocaine.” 

Respondents cited a range of reasons for using drugs. The main reasons for using cannabis were to reduce stress or to relax (80%); to get high or for fun (76%); or to improve sleep (57%).

For cocaine, users were mainly taking the drug to get high or for fun (88%); to socialise (70%); or out of curiosity (11%).

Purchasing of drugs survey respondents were asked about how they purchase the drugs they use. It was found that for cannabis herb, the most common channels were direct contact with the source or dealer (86%), through social media (22%), or via the darknet (9%).

For cocaine, the breakdown was similar: 87% of users purchased the drug through direct contact with a source or dealer, via social media networks (14%) or on the darknet (3%).

On the occasions when they use cocaine, weekly users use twice as much cocaine as those who use it less than monthly.
On the occasions when they use cocaine, weekly users use twice as much cocaine as those who use it less than monthly.

When survey respondents were asked about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their drug use, results varied depending on the drug in question. 45% of cannabis herb users reported increased use, while almost one in three decreased their use.

More than one in ten ecstasy users increased use, with just over 60% using the drug less frequently.

And higher use was reported by more than one-quarter of cocaine users, with nearly 50% reducing their use.

“These findings confirm that our drug landscape has significantly changed and continues to evolve and that we need to adapt our approaches to meet the needs of people who now use drugs in Ireland,” Dr Keenan said.

The Health Research Board (HRB) published the Irish results from the EWSD this morning.

The online survey was undertaken across 30 European countries between March and May 2021. It collected data among people who use drugs, from those who are experimenting or occasional users, to those who use drugs in a more intensive way.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) managed the recruitment of the survey sample and 5,762 people in Ireland responded to the survey.

It was undertaken when Covid-19 restrictions were in place in Ireland, including the closure of nightlife settings, which may have impacted findings.

The survey is not a general population study and so cannot be taken as representative of the broader public as a whole; rather the aim is to investigate the behaviour of a particular sub-group of the population who identify themselves as drug users.

Commenting on the HRB report findings, HRB Chief Executive Mairead O’Driscoll said: “Although we know that young people use drugs in risky ways in nightlife settings, this group is considered ‘hard to reach’ as they would not generally present to addiction services.

“Survey research like this helps the Health Research Board better understand how these communities are using drugs, so we can deliver valuable evidence to inform policy and prevention strategies to reduce harm and support recovery.”

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