Youths swap drinks for drugs to save cash
YOUNG Australians have admitted they would rather spend $30 on a pill than pay for the rising costs of alcohol when going out.
With Australian cities among the world's most expensive for alcohol, partygoers say they are motivated by savings when choosing what substance to consume.
Student Casey*, 24, says party drugs are the obvious option for a cheaper night out.
"I mean that's the reason I started using caps (the capsule form of ecstasy) at the beginning," she said.
"When you're paying $25 or $30 for a cap, I mean it's so much cheaper than spending say $40 on pre-drinks then however much when you actually go to the club.
"And it lasts longer than alcohol."
The National Drug and Alcohol Centre's most recent report showed the average price of an ecstasy pill was $25.
Casey said it was at music festivals where a pill was most appealing.
"At music festivals in particular, it's so much more practical," she said. "When you're at a festival for eight hours and it's just insanely expensive, you can't drink all day."
Legal graduate Andrew*, 24, takes caps irregularly, but agrees that when it comes to music festivals taking a pill saves him hundreds of dollars.
"I think price is definitely a motivating factor," he said. "When you consider that drinks are so expensive at a festival and you might end up buying say 10 drinks that's at least $100.
"Whereas you spend $30 on a cap, you don't have to line up, and you save a significant amount."
He said it was a straightforward decision, "especially considering festivals are already so expensive".
Experts, however, aren't sure the price of alcohol can be directly linked to increasing use of pills.
Leading alcohol policy researcher Michael Livingston said little research had been done to back up anecdotal reports that expensive alcohol made pills more attractive.
"There probably are people for whom on an individual level or on a night out price is a key determining factor," he said.
"But at a population level, there's no evidence that alcohol price really affects rates of ecstasy use."
He said lowering alcohol prices wasn't the answer.
Meanwhile, the pill-popping trend has had dangerous consequences for young users.
Two young people died from drug overdoses at last months Defqon.1 Festival, and last week's Drug Trends report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre revealed that overdoses were increasing among participants.
The report compiled interviews with about 800 Aussies who regularly took illicit drugs, revealing that over one-third of participants had experienced a non-fatal overdose of a stimulant drug.
Of those, more than 60 per cent identified ecstasy as the culprit.
The deaths and increasing overdoses reignited calls for festivals to offer pill testing, so potential users could see what was in the drugs they planned on taking.
The NSW Government refused to back that suggestion.
Dr Livingston said this kind of harm-reduction was key to protecting young people at festivals.
Casey, who worked at Defqon.1, said while the deaths hadn't served as a deterrent, they had increased demand for pill testing among her circle of friends.
"We think it should be a reason for the government to allow more pill testing, more medics, etc," she said.
When asked if sniffer dogs or security scared anyone off, she shrugged.
"Not really," she said. "I mean they caught about 100 people out of 30,000. And I can guarantee that there were 29,900 who got through with drugs on them."
According to the report, while Casey's estimates may have been exaggerated use of ecstasy was worryingly high.
Among the habitual drug users surveyed, a quarter admitted to taking ecstasy weekly or more frequently.
Australians are also consuming more pure forms of ecstasy. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed (72 per cent) admitted taking crystal ecstasy, and more than two in three (63 per cent) had taken the capsule form, some of the highest levels since the survey began in 2003.
But people such as Andrew maintain that taking a pill at a festival is a harmless economic decision.
"I think it's pragmatic," he said. "You don't spend time and money lining up, you just take a cap."
* Names have been changed