Young Australia’s enthusiasm for pingers appears to be on the rise. According to the latest Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) study, which surveyed some 20,000 high school students from around the country in 2017, the proportion of teens using ecstasy almost doubled in three years. In 2014 six percent of participants aged 16 to 17 admitted to having tried the drug at some point. But by 2017 that number had risen to 10 percent. For those aged 12 to 13, the number rose from one percent to three percent. And overall, ecstasy use among students aged 12 to 17 more than doubled from two percent in 2011 to 5 per cent in 2017.
It’s an increase that Paul Dillon, founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, has called “alarming.” Speaking to Fairfax, Paul suggested that the figures in the survey—conducted more than a year ago—are likely to be “even higher than that now,” and expressed concern over young people’s seemingly cavalier approach to drugs. “When people don’t have respect for drugs or perceive there is some kind of risk involved, that’s when you see tragedies occur,” he said.
Paul, who’s been a drug educator for more than 25 years, went on to allege that ecstasy was readily available through friend groups and social networks, and claimed (rather inexplicably in our experience) that pills could be bought by students for as little as $10 a piece. His concern is that ecstasy is being normalised in the imagination of the Australian youth, as reflected in the ASSAD data, and that this has led to a dangerous, devil-may-care attitude around drug use.
“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.”
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Alex Wodak, however, suggests that an increase in drug consumption should not automatically equal an increase in harm. Speaking to VICE, he stressed that “most of the harm from illegal drugs results from the black market distribution system, not the pharmacological properties of the drug. MDMA is dangerous because it is prohibited, not prohibited because it is dangerous.”
If there’s one thing the ASSAD data indicates, it’s that the Australian government’s war on drugs—and its flaccid “just say no” campaign—is failing. In Alex Wodak’s view, the best way to minimise harm and ensure that we don't "see young people die" is not necessarily to try and stop them from taking ecstasy, but rather to implement systems which make those drugs, and the environments in which they’re taken, as safe as possible.
Pill testing is one option that "would reduce deaths and hospital admissions,” he said. “But regulated availability would save even more lives.”
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.