New concerns on multiple drug use

Posted on: Sunday, 01 July 2012

New figures showing a worrying trend towards the use of polydrugs has prompted fresh warnings from Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre about the dangers of multiple drug use.

Turning Point’s Victorian Drug Statistics Handbook reveals there were 460 multiple drug-related hospitalisations in Victoria in 2009-10, resulting in a total of 3405 hospital bed days.

While there was a nine per cent drop in the number of drug-related hospitalisations compared with 2008-09, there was a three per cent increase in hospital bed days.   

Polydrug use refers to the concurrent use of multiple drugs or the combining of drugs.

The research also revealed that in 2009-10, 71 per cent of people receiving treatment for amphetamine use in Victoria recorded at least one other drug of concern. Sixty-eight per cent of heroin users, 61 per cent of cannabis users and 41 per cent of people undergoing treatment for alcohol were also using other substances.

The figures represent a significant increase from 2004-05 when just 61 per cent of amphetamine users were identified as polydrug users; with 53 per cent of heroin users, 42 per cent of cannabis users and 29 per cent of people undergoing treatment for alcohol also taking other drugs.   

Turning Point researcher Dr Belinda Lloyd said an individual’s motivation to use multiple drugs might be due to a number of reasons.

“It could be to heighten the effect from one particular drug, reduce the effects of withdrawal, bypass the negative effects of coming down from a substance used earlier or to obtain multiple concurrent drug effects,” Dr Lloyd said.

The latest figures revealed that among amphetamine, heroin and alcohol users, cannabis was the most common secondary drug. Nicotine was the most common secondary drug among cannabis users.

Turning Point Head of Clinical Services Dr Matthew Frei said polydrug use was an increasing concern.

“From what I’ve seen with people entering treatment, it appears in the last five to 10 years we have seen a pattern of multiple substance use,” Dr Frei said.

“Using multiple substances – be they illicit, pharmaceutical or legal drugs, carries some risk because the outcomes and effects of combination substance use is less predictable.”

Dr Frei said there was no particular pattern with polydrug use, although availability was a factor, such as alcohol at a licensed venue.

He said the demographics of people engaging in polydrug use also varied.

“Among older people it may be mixing pharameutical drugs with alcohol. For younger people it could be illicit substances and alcohol,” he said.  

Dr Frei added that treatment was more complex when multiple substances were involved.

Turning Point Director Professor Dan Lubman said it was important people understood the dangers of polydrug use. However, he stressed that alcohol still remained the most widely used drug in the state.

According to the handbook, alcohol-related inpatient hospitalisations jumped from 27,045 in 2008-09 to 30,116 in 2009-10, an increase of 11 per cent.

Prof Lubman urged people who had a drug or alcohol issue, or knew someone who did, to seek help from support services.

“Turning Point’s DirectLine is a great first port of call for people seeking help and advice,” he said. “We acknowledge that taking that first step isn’t always easy but our team is here to give you the support you need.”

The Victorian Drug Statistics Handbook is prepared by Turning Point and published by the Department of Health.

A copy of the full report can be found here.

People seeking help with a drug or alcohol issue can contact DirectLine on 1800 888 236, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

About Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre
Turning Point (established 1995 and based in Fitzroy) provides leadership to the Victorian alcohol and drug sector. It promotes the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities living with, and affected by, alcohol, other drug-related harms and gambling.

About Eastern Health
Eastern Health is one of Victoria’s largest public health services. It provides a range of acute, sub-acute, mental health and community health services from 29 locations. Its larger facilities include: Angliss Hospital in Upper Ferntree Gully, Box Hill Hospital in Box Hill, Healesville & District Hospital in Healesville, Maroondah Hospital in Ringwood East, Peter James Centre in Burwood East, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Fitzroy, Wantirna Health in Wantirna, Yarra Valley Community Health in Healesville and Yarra Ranges Health in Lilydale.