Polydrug Use: Is the Picture Changing?

Phyllis J. Newton, Justice Studies, Inc.
Candace M. Johnson, Justice Studies, Inc.

The introduction of club drugs into the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s altered patterns of drug use, particularly among youth and the young adult population. Some have argued that one of the greatest risks of the club drug phenomenon is the witting and, perhaps more importantly, unwitting use of multiple or polydrugs. Particularly, with such drugs as ecstasy, drug users and even drug sellers have little knowledge of the purity of each dose. In fact, ecstasy is often found to contain adulterations, including such things as PCP, LSD, GHB, or methamphetamine. In addition, club drug users tend to use ecstasy in combination with drugs such as methamphetamine, inhalants, marijuana, and increasingly cocaine. Does this relationship between club drug and polydrug use and the increase in club drug use overall portend changes in drug treatment, health care, and law enforcement practices? We propose using the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) data to examine patterns of polydrug use among the recent arrestee population, and question whether these patterns have changed over time. While the introduction of club drugs may increase the likelihood of polydrug use, some professionals believe that the arrestee population is not the appropriate target for testing hypotheses about club drugs, arguing that the population using club drugs is not represented by arrestees. Similarly, some question the frequency with which polydrug use occurs in the arrestee population, with some evidence that its frequency limits our ability to make determinations based on these data. We believe that the question of club drug and polydrug use among the recent arrestee population is an empirical question and use this study to illustrate club drug usage among arrestees as well as address questions about changing patterns of polydrug use. The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program has been collecting data from recent arrestees since 1987. In the past few years, the ADAM program has undergone several methodological changes, including an increase to 35 sites, standardization of catchment areas to the county level, implementation of a new, more comprehensive data collection instrument, and the introduction of probability-based sampling. These changes aim to improve the data collection system to be more representative of the communities in which data are collected, allowing counties to make generalizations about their arrestee populations in general and practitioners and researchers to explore a greater variety of policy issues. The following provides a set of questions we hope to address in this paper. For the most part, we will use descriptive statistics to analyze these questions. However, there are some comparisons over time that need multivariate techniques to control for multiple explanations, including interactive explanations. How widespread is polydrug use in the arrestee population and what are the drugs being used?

Who are the polydrug arrestees and how do they compare to non-users and single-drug users? How old are they? What gender matter? When did they begin using drugs? What is their educational and employment background? Is race or ethnicity a factor?

How do polydrug users who combine single drug use with alcohol compare to polydrug users who combine multiple illegal substances or multiple substances and alcohol?

What is the relationship between club drug use and polydrug use among arrestees? Is the rate higher among arrestees who report club drug as opposed to other drug use?

Does region of the country play any part in explaining use of multiple drugs? If so, is there an interactive relationship between region of the country and drug type? For example, are arrestees who use methamphetamine more likely to use multiple drugs? If true, the West should have higher rates of polydrug use given what is known about methamphetamine use.

Are there patterns of polydrug use among arrestees, not only type but frequency?

Do arrestees for various crimes have different rates of polydrug use? Are arrestees who commit violent crimes as opposed to property crimes more likely to be polydrug users?

Have polydrug users sought treatment at lower or higher levels than other arrestees? Are polydrug users more transient and more often unemployed than other arrestees? Has polydrug use increased or decreased over time? As different drugs have come into vogue, has this altered the rates of polydrug use?

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Updated 05/20/2006