Global trends in drug use
The Global Drug Survey becomes more valuable every year; this year more than 123,000 people from more than 30 countries completed the survey including over 5,000 from the UK.
The survey is very different from research such as the Crime Survey for England and Wales because it is typically completed by regular, mainly recreational, drug users, most of them young and many of them well-educated.
The findings make fascinating reading and provide new data on new drug trends and crucial public health and policy issues. Increasingly, GDS provides a wide range of user-friendly harm reduction tips and resources. I recommend that you find time for a browse.
Here are ten things that I learnt from this year’s survey.
1: Most popular drugs
Of the 20 drugs used most commonly in the last 12 months:
- 4 were tobacco/nicotine-based products
- 6 were psychedelic/dissociative drugs
- 4 were stimulant drugs
- 3 were prescription Central Nervous System depressants.
The top ten drugs used by survey respondents in the last 12 months (excluding alcohol and tobacco/nicotine products) were:
- • MDMA
- • Cocaine,
- • Amphetamines
- • LSD
- • Magic mushrooms
- • Benzodiazepines
- • Prescription opioids
- • Ketamine
- • Nitrous oxide
2: Emergency treatment
The GDS team ranked the most dangerous drugs in terms of the percentage of people who recently used that drug, reported seeking emergency medical treatment (EMT) in the last 12 months.
One in six female and one in nine male heroin users had sought emergency medical treatment in the previous 12 months.
GDS 2019 found that British GDS respondents who drink alcohol get drunk more times per year than anywhere else. It also found that women over 25 years old regret getting drunk most often (especially if they live in a German-speaking country).
- On average, GDS respondents said they got drunk 33 times in the last 12 months.
- Participants from English-speaking countries reported getting drunk most often (in the UK 51 times in last year, in the USA on 50 times, Canada 48 times and Australia 47 times), while participants from South American countries reported getting drunk on the lowest number of occasions (Chile 16 times a year, Colombia and Germany tied at 22).
- Globally, GDS participants who drank alcohol in the last 12 months reported regretting getting drunk on 20% of occasions, with the highest rates of regret being reported among women aged 25 years and older (24.2%) and lowest among males aged 25 years and younger (17%).
- Women over 25 years from German-speaking countries regretted getting drunk most often (33%).
- Participants who reported high risk drinking patterns (as assessed by the WHO alcohol problem screening tool, the AUDIT), regretted getting drunk almost twice as often (35%) than the participants with low risk drinking (19%).
- Overall, 38% of the participants who drank alcohol in the last 12 months wanted to drink less next year, with the preferred form of support being an online tool such as the free, anonymous Drinks Meter app, available on the app stores and at www.drinksmeter.com
The main conclusions from this year’s GDS on cocaine is that the drug currently provides better value for money and that there are escalating rates of acute harms:
- Overall, 65% of participants reported using cocaine on 10 or fewer occasions, with only 8.9% reporting use on 50 or more occasions in the last year.
- The median amount of cocaine powder consumed on a day of use was 0.5gm.
- 62% reported same day delivery of cocaine in the last year, with 30.4% reporting that the delivery took no longer than 30 minutes.
- Overall, 41% of participants who recently used cocaine said they would like to use less cocaine next year.
- Of the 20,000 people who completed the section on cocaine use in the last year, 1.1% sought emergency medical treatment following use (compared to 0.9% in GDS2018 and 0.6% in both GDS2017 and GDS2016).
- It is likely that higher purity cocaine is related to increased harms.
- Over 70% of participants who recently used cocaine would support a regulated fair-trade cocaine market with 85% of these willing to pay more for the drug, on average 25% more.
5: Cannabis & health
More than 55,000 GDS respondents who used cannabis in the last year evaluated 6 cannabis health information labels addressing the risk of dependence, smoking harms, effects on those aged 21 years and under, driving risk, and the impact on memory and motivation.
- Believability of all messages was high (>75%), except for dependence risk (64%).
- One quarter (25%) indicated that the risks of cannabis smoke and the risk of dependence (1 in 10) were new pieces of information to them.
- 50% reported that the ‘driving when stoned’ message would make them think about not driving stoned and over one third said the GDS ‘side effect labels’ highlighting the impact on memory and motivation would make them think about using less.
The GDS urges the new companies involved in the legal sale of cannabis around the world to provide customers with honest information and advice.
6: Darknet and cryptomarkets
If anyone doubted the increasing importance of darknet markets for buying drugs, this year’s Global Drug Survey can confirm the trend with a high proportion of respondents in most countries buying drugs by this route. Over a quarter of those buying drugs from the darknet, only started doing so in the last year.
The top drugs bought on the darknet were MDMA, LSD and cannabis, followed by amphetamines, NPS and prescription pharmaceuticals. Further, darknet purchases of DMT, ketamine, and 2c-b have increased over the last 5 years.
7: Sexual assault, intoxication and consent
One third of GDS2019’s female respondents reported having been taken advantage of sexually whilst under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs ever and 8% in the last year.
- Figures were similar for those identifying as non-binary/a different gender identity (28% ever, 10% in the last year).
- Rates for men were 6% and 2%, respectively.
- Rates of being taken advantage of were highest among young bisexual women (14%).
- Of those reporting an incident in the last 12 months, 2,300 people (75%) agreed to provide further details.
- Alcohol was involved in almost 90% cases and was the only substance used in 59% cases involving women and 48% involving men.