Keeping an Eye on the Drivers of Drug Choice

Illicit drug use seems to go in cycles. Heroin, ice, ecstasy, MDMA, and other types of drugs cycle in and out of popularity. The police, government, Saliva Drug Testand nonprofits keep track of these cycles by collecting statistics on things like the number of people showing up in emergency rooms due to overdose, the number of arrests connected to drug use, the number of busts of home drug-cooking laboratories, and so on. Though not an entertaining exercise, think like a drug user for a moment. How does a person choose what drugs to use? What are the drivers that prompt a person to choose one drug over another?

As is true for any product, legal or not, there are market and economic drivers guiding drug choice. There are many cases where the initial drug use was prompted by factors like peer pressure or curiosity. However, once hooked on drugs, many addicts switch from one drug to another and back again in a continuous cycle of drug abuse. Interestingly, the factors that drive drug choice sound like traditional business principles – availability, price, and accessibility.

Looking Ahead to Market Demand for Drugs

In 2000, a study reported Australia had 74,000 dependent heroin users. In 2005, a different study reported there were 72,700 dependent methamphetamine users. In comparing the study, the question was asked as to whether there were now 146,000 people dependent on heroin or meth, or if these were basically the same group of people who had switched from heroin to meth. The conclusion was that people had altered their drug use (heroin) to switch to a new drug (meth) or were using both drugs (heroin and meth) because meth had become available.1

Heroin is a drug that goes through cycles of scarcity and availability or expensive and inexpensive and even weak versus strong products, depending on where the drug is coming from and what is added to the mixture. The cycles are integrated, creating a true marketplace subject to the same economic principles as any other product. Sometimes there is advance notice of a changing market. Employers should have heeded the warning in 2008 that inexpensive Afghanistan opium was going to flood Australia and end a heroin shortage. The opium was going to be purer and cheaper. The Victorian Police Drug Squad reported at the time that heroin prices had already declined by 40 percent.2 Thus, it would have been reasonable to forecast greater market demand for heroin, meaning it is likely more workers would use heroin.

After the dire predictions, heroin use did increase for several years. Then a new trend started. Jumping forward to 2013, a review of ambulance emergency statistics indicated a 318 percent rise in emergency calls in Melbourne involving crystal methamphetamine (ice) during the two-year period of 2010 to 2012. Though there are many drivers of ice use, one of them is the fact it can be smoked rather than injected. Another driver is increased accessibility due to the increased flow of crystal meth from international dealers and the increase in home-grown meth labs.3 The significant rise in ice use between 2010 and 2011 was also documented by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

Testing for Multiple Drugs of Choice

The cycles of drug use are precisely why it is important to use drug testing products that test for more than one drug. There is no way an employer can predict whether a worker will use cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, amphetamine, or cannabis. It depends on the drug flow, accessibility, ease-of-use, and price. News reports and government statistics can help employers understand what cycle particular illicit drugs are likely to enter or are already in, but only drug testing can determine the exact drug being used at the moment by an individual. There are many testing products available today, including one for detecting synthetic cannabis.

CMM ( offers the full range of drug and alcohol testing products, including the Alere DDS2 Mobile Saliva Drug Test System and the DrugWipe 5S. The selection of products testing for multiple drugs gives employers the opportunity to select the one that best fits their needs and budgets.


  1. Lynne Magor-Blatch. (2008, October). Substance use in the 21st Century: Different or more of the same? Retrieved from Australian Psychological Society:
  2. Connor Duffy. (2008, June 3). Record Afghanistan opium crop to see cheap heroin flood Australia. Retrieved from ABC Australia:
  3. Oliver Milman. (2013, September 16). Dramatic rise in crystal meth casualties fuels fear of Australian ‘ice’ boom. Retrieved from The Guardian:

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