Casual coke use is at all time high while ecstasy slides

Cocaine use among recreational drug users has risen to its highest level since monitoring began in 2003.

Nearly half of recreational drug users reported they had recently used the drug

Figures to be released today show that the use of ecstasy appears to be sliding, with the proportion of drug takers reporting weekly or greater use of the recreational drug falling from 30 per cent to 23 per cent.

But the data, compiled by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, show that other substances including cocaine may be filling the gap.

NDARC senior lecturer Lucy Burns, who led the research, said the findings showed that an increase in cocaine use — detected in NSW in last year’s findings — had since spread nationwide.

Cocaine use is highest in NSW, where it was reported by 59 per cent of recreational drug users, then Victoria (54 per cent) and the ACT (58 per cent).

However, frequency of cocaine use remains low, with most reporting using the drug two to three times in the six-month reporting period. Most users (60 per cent) described cocaine as easy or very easy to obtain.

Dr Burns said that although cocaine use did appear to be on the rise, the link between this and the decline in ecstasy use had to be made with caution.

“Cocaine is substantially more expensive than ecstasy — it’s unlikely that people using ecstasy would be able to substitute with cocaine, and it’s more likely they would switch to something like mephedrone,” Dr Burns said.

“This is a new drug that we are seeing emerging in this market.”

The use of mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant, has been increasingly reported in Britain, and has shown up for the first time in significant numbers in this year’s Australian research, which relies on reports from 693 regular ecstasy users.

Mephedrone use was reported by 28 ecstasy users in Victoria, 42 in Tasmania and four in NSW.

Dr Burns said mephedrone was such a new drug that knowledge of its effects was still limited, but it was important for doctors to be aware of its arrival in Australia.

“People who have used mephedrone in the UK have reported things like palpitations and chest pain, which are indications of something quite nasty,” she said.

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