What is Poly Drug Use and Can It Be Detected?

In the common parlance, we talk about “drug of choice” which suggests that most drug users are using a single drug. Yet the statistics published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggest differently. In the 2003 report, it indicates:1

  • 19.3% of drinkers also use another illicit drug
  • 21.9% of marijuana users also use amphetamines
  • 11.9% of people using amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine are also using tranquillisers
  • 3.7% of people using amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine are also using injected drugs

Poly drug use refers to the regular consumption of a combination of drugs. It is a growing problem as illicit drug users search for new ways to achieve desired effects. In addition, as the statistics indicate, many illicit drug users are also taking legal prescription drugs like tranquillisers or inhalants.

Researchers have studied poly drug use from different perspectives. In one study, poly drug use was studied among methamphetamine users and particularly among those people who frequent bars and clubs. They use “…speed and base as the baseline on which to add any one or more of a range of other drugs..”1 This particular study also found that methamphetamine substance abusers also used cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana in addition to alcohol at the same time.

The study also noted that people frequently mix methamphetamines with prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are typically analgesics, sleeping pills, barbiturates and inhalants.

In a different study with a twist, the behaviour called bingeing was evaluated. “Bingeing on psychostimulants, considered to be the most hazardous pattern of use, is usually characterised as repeated use over several days involving the administration of high doses by injection….Polydrug use and injecting drugs use appear to be salient characteristics of drug user who binge.”2 Unfortunately, bingers often use alcohol and/or drugs in the workplace while they are on a binge.

The variety of drugs used by illicit substance abusers grows every day. They may go by different street names, but most drugs fall within the categories of:

  • Depressants including opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and non-opiate analgesics
  • Stimulants including amphetamines, methamphetamine and cocaine
  • Hallucinogens including marijuana and LSD
  • Narcotics including heroin
  • Alcohol

Since millions of workers are poly drug users, the testing equipment used in the workplace should be able to detect multiple drugs to be as effective as possible. For example, the Oraline Saliva Drug Test will test for marijuana, methamphetamine, opiates and cocaine. The Medix Integrated Pro-Split Cup will test for THC (cannabis), methamphetamine, opiates, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. It is important to use quality drug and alcohol testing equipment because of the growing problem of poly drug use. CMM Technology at http://cmm.com.au/index.php has an array of technologically advanced and affordable drug testing equipment that can detect poly drug use.

It should be noted that employers designing drug testing programs must address the issue of workers who use legal prescription drugs versus illicit drugs.  The drug testing equipment will produce results for both. The employer must develop legal and ethical policies on pre-screening and employee confidentiality to insure the workers’ privacy rights are protected.  The employer must also develop policies on the use of legal prescription drugs by employees for cases where the drug presents as much of a safety risk as illicit drugs.


1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2003, February). Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2002 – Poly Drug Use. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: www.aihw.gov.au/publications/phe/sdua02/sdua02-c11.pdf

2Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. (2008, February). Patterns of Use and Harms Associated with Specific Populations of Methamphetamine Users in Australia – exploratory Research: qualitative research report. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-npi-methamphetamine-report-feb09-l~polydruguse

3Loxley, C. O. (1996). Bingeing on Psychostimulants in Australia: Do We Know What It Means (And Does it Matter)? Retrieved February 28, 2011, from informa Healthcare Research & Theory: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/16066359609005561

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