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Weekend Drug Use Increases across the UK Night-time Economy

10/19/2009 10:26:57

New research shows that weekend use of drugs is more popular than ten years ago
New research shows that weekend use of drugs is more popular than ten years ago

Weekend use of drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine is more popular than ten years ago whilst young adults are taking a greater variety of drugs than ever, according to new research by Lancaster University, featured in Times2 on Monday 19 October.

In the first study of its kind, Dr Fiona Measham and Dr Karenza Moore carried out surveys in three popular drinking destinations and five nightclubs in Manchester city centre to find out more about illegal drug use in a wide range of venues across the UK night-time economy.

They found evidence of prolific weekend illegal drug use by young adults who are selecting from an ever wider menu of choices – from more ‘established’ recreational drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy pills to relative newcomers such as ketamine and MDMA powder. Rather than replacing ‘old favourites’, these newcomers are being added into the mix.

Reported illegal drug use was high, with almost all club customers and two thirds of bar customers having tried an illegal drug at least once in their lifetime. On an average Friday night out, two thirds of club-goers and one in five bar customers take one or more illegal drugs.

The study, published today by Sage in a special edition of Criminology and Criminal Justice on the night-time economy, reveals significant differences in drug choices across different leisure venues in the city, both between bars and nightclubs, and between different music scenes.

Dr Measham said: “Our work highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of the alcohol-focused UK night time economy and related illegal drug use. We are not talking about the same broad mass of customers choosing different leisure experiences on different occasions, but distinctive leisure scenes”.

Dr Measham said: “Today, young adults’ drug choices are shaped by the venues they attend and the entertainment on offer, specifically the type of music scene they identify with. For example large numbers of club-goers told us they had taken ‘club drugs’ such as ecstasy, cocaine and relatedly cannabis, although hardly any had taken psychedelics such as LSD, nor had they ever used heroin or crack. There were also different patterns of drug taking among people in the same club on different nights – depending on the type of music on offer. For example we found that hard dance club-goers were the most drug-experienced group, with over a quarter taking ketamine on their night out, whilst only 3% of drum and bass club-goers took ketamine that night”.

“This suggests we need to improve our understanding of the subtle patterns of drug taking in order to inform policy and shape education and harm reduction strategies. Recreational drug users face a vacuum in service provision precisely because they are not seen as a threat to wider society”.

Dr Moore added: “With weekend recreational polydrug use rising, it seems that regulation and policing has done little to deter people from going out and taking drugs. Instead of preventing drug use, it just criminalises young adults”.

The researchers found:

Experimentation with illegal drugs is very high in both bars and clubs

Over two thirds of bar customers reported having tried a drug at least once

Illegal drug use is very high among club-goers, with almost all club-goers having tried a drug at least once during their lifetime

Eight in 10 club-goers and over a third of bar customers reported having had a drug within the last month

An enduring relationship between club culture and ecstasy. Over half of club-goers had taken ecstasy pills in the last month. It seems that both ecstasy and cocaine are even more popular amongst club-goers and bar customers today than they were ten years ago

Evidence of the growing popularity of emergent drugs such as MDMA powder and ketamine

Ketamine remains less popular than ecstasy overall. It has not displaced ecstasy as the club drug of choice but instead has been added to the weekend ‘polydrug repertoires’ of about one in 10 club-goers

The biggest distinctions in drug use on the fieldwork night were between drum and bass clubs, and the three other genres—trance, funky/electro house and hard dance. For example, only 13% of drum and bass customers reported using cocaine on the fieldwork night compared with one in three hard dance customers

The survey found that one in 20 bar customers took cocaine that night

Repertoires of distinction: Exploring patterns of weekend polydrug use within local leisure scenes across the English night time economy’ is published in Criminology & Criminal Justice.