What aspects of a drug checking service are important in a high-cost drug market?
Excellent models exist for drug checking services internationally, however, there are substantial differences across jurisdictions that may create barriers to use of these service models. For example, the Australian drug market differs substantially from other countries, particularly in relation to substance cost. We examined effects of different aspects of ‘costs’ of services on willingness of Australians to engage with drug checking.
Internet study of 515 adult Australians that had used ‘ecstasy’ in the past year. We used a behavioural economic approach, examining the impact of different costs (financial, drug sample and time) on willingness to engage with a service. Two studies examined different service types: festival onsite services providing four differing levels of detail about drug (qualitative vs quantitative for MDMA only and/or for all drug components); service types (festival on-site, delayed city site, fixed site, mail service). The Health Beliefs model was included to understand correlates of service engagement.
There were no significant differences in willingness to engage with any of the service types examined. However, willingness to engage was highly sensitive to costs, with service prices of $14, drug samples of 40% of a pill, and for festival onsite services wait times of longer than 35 minutes reducing willingness to engage to 50%. Lower perceived barriers (e.g. embarrassment, confidentiality) and higher perceived benefit predicted greater willingness to engage but higher perceived susceptibility to harm from drugs was not significantly associated with engagement.
People who consume ecstasy in Australia are enthusiastic about drug checking but this is highly sensitive to service cost. This may be a particularly important barrier to service engagement in countries where substances such as MDMA are more expensive relative to Western Europe. Health intervention campaigns should focus on highlighting service accessibility and benefits than potential harms from substance consumption. No funding was received for this project.