New research to combat ecstasy use in Western Australia

ecstasy pills

The majority of ecstasy is entering Australia via the east coast and making its way across to Western Australia approximately one year later, according to research out of Murdoch University.

Led by James Maybir, a Master of Forensic Science student at Murdoch University, the project investigated the online ecstasy community website - - to gain useful intelligence that could inform law enforcement on the use of drugs in Australia. 

“This is the first time that an online community of drug users has been used as a proxy for actual drug seizures and the novel research has shown great promise in identifying trends of use across Australia,” said Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science and Mr Maybir’s supervisor, Mr Brendan Chapman. 

 “These findings have implications for not only law enforcement, but also emergency medicine, acting as a crystal ball in predicting bad batches of drugs arriving in the Western Australia.

“If we know that there is a batch of ecstasy that circulates around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and it is hospitalising users now, Western Australian public health can prepare to potentially see these batches turn up in Perth approximately a year later.” 

Using a practice called open source intelligence, or OS-INT, Mr Maybir pulled thousands of pieces of ecstasy usage data from the online community using a technique known as data scraping.  

A comprehensive database of 4358 ecstasy pills reported by users in Australia and New Zealand between September 2005 and April 2020 were catalogued by colour, shape and stamp – known as the ‘logo’ on the pill – to analyse general trends as well as spatiotemporal movement between states.  

Mr Maybir and Mr Chapman are now sharing their findings with ChemCentre Western Australia, who undertake all of WA drug seizure analyses for WA Police.  

Murdoch University and ChemCentre already share a strong collaboration in forensic science research, through close industry relationships with the Director, Colin Priddis and Dr John Coumbaros who is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Murdoch University.  

“The next phase of this research is to compare these results to those of actual drugs we have seized to identify whether new methods of drug interception can be developed,” said Dr Coumbaros. 

Mr Maybir attributes the real-world application of his research to his success in entering the workforce, having been offered a position with WA Police only weeks after graduating from the Masters program at Murdoch.  

“I'm so glad I got to do my research in an area that’s quite cutting edge. It’s really helped me get ahead of the curve on working with police and kickstarting my career,” Mr Maybir said. 

Find out more on the Master of Forensic Science course.
Posted on:

8 Jun 2021


Science, Research

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