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drugs1Thousands of gay and bisexual men around Sydney have answered probing questions about their recreational drug use – and now some interesting recent trends can be revealed.

Among the variety of topics tackled each year by the Gay Community Periodic Survey, the National Centre in HIV Social Research and ACON regularly asks about the use of Ecstasy, Crystal, Amphetamines, GHB, Cocaine and Injecting Drugs. The information gathered help to identify and tackle any health issues the use of these substances may have on our population.

International and Australian research suggests that gay men are traditionally more likely to use recreational substances, with their use of them beginning at a younger age and sustaining for longer in their lives. As Sydney is among the gay party capitals of the world, we might expect that our nightlife ‘scene’ is one of the reasons people arrive in our city, so getting accurate information helps with ACON’s support and harm minimisation work.

The Periodic Survey has been undertaken each year since in the mid 1990s. This means we can compare changes and trends over multiple years. Thousands of men have been surveyed, accessed from up to twenty different sites including bars, gyms, saunas, health clinics and Mardi Gras’ Fair Day. Over the last five years, 2,200-3,200 individual surveys were handed back, giving a reasonable statistical sample with a stable average age.


Asked if they’d used ecstasy in the previous six months, there’s a decline from above 40% to below 30% last year.


Crystal and Amphetamine use is also dropping.


On the other hand, the amount of people saying they use GHB seems remarkably stable in the last few years.


Cocaine is becoming a little more popular though.


The percentage of survey respondents saying they use Injecting Drugs is shrinking, especially in the most recent two years:


And here’s the direct response to the question ‘Have you used party drugs for sex in the past six months?’, also showing a downward trend.

So, taken at face value, these results seem to show that the use of many of these drugs by Sydney’s gay and bisexual men is in decline, which should debunk any idea that drug use is rampant and rising out of control.

But of course, the most common drug found in our gay going-out hotspots – alcohol – is not currently asked about in the survey– something ACON Alcohol and Drugs Program manager Stephen Scott realises is a “big gap in our research” which may be addressed in future studies. “There’s little doubt that alcohol is the most commonly used drug across our community.” Stats about marijuana are also now gathered as part of ongoing research.

Also, these surveys are being filled in by people out and about on the gay scene, but there may be an increasing number of people choosing to meet at home to partake in drugs and sex in private parties, eschewing more traditional gay clubs and pubs. A few years ago the campaign Partying@Home aimed to target private party punters and hosts, giving useful information and advice – check it all out here.

While the graphs above show those downward trends, drug use by gay men is still happening at higher levels than you get in the general population, and while many gay guys can handle that, some are experiencing problems.

Comparing 2012 with five years ago, a lot has also changed with the support networks available for people with concerns about their drug use. Crucially, many of the services on offer are tailor-made for gay men, and can help reduce and/or manage your substance use and set your own limits, ensuring the rest of your life is still happening the way you want it to. ACON’s Substance Support Service provides alcohol and drug counseling specifically for people in the GLBT community who are wanting to reduce or better manage their use of drugs.

It’s also important to know your rights if you’re taking illegal substances. Sniffer dogs are often seen at major parties and festivals – at gay and mainstream events alike – and the police can search you if a dog singles you out as a drug-carrying suspect. This pdf contains a no-nonsense guide to your rights in that situation.

You weren’t taught these kinds of things at school – so it’s up to you to get informed or you may be putting yourself at risk.

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