Extending drug ethno-epidemiology using agent-based modelling

Addiction. 2009 Dec;104(12):1991-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02709.x. Epub 2009 Oct 5.


Aims: To show how the inclusion of agent-based modelling improved the integration of ethno-epidemiological data in a study of psychostimulant use and related harms among young Australians.

Methods: Agent-based modelling, ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews and epidemiological surveys.

Setting: Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, Australia.

Participants: Club drug users in Melbourne, recreational drug users in Perth and street-based injecting drug users in Sydney. Participants were aged 18-30 years and reported monthly or more frequent psychostimulant use.

Findings: Agent-based modelling provided a specific focus for structured discussion about integrating ethnographic and epidemiological methods and data. The modelling process was underpinned by collective and incremental design principles, and produced 'SimAmph', a data-driven model of social and environmental agents and the relationships between them. Using SimAmph, we were able to test the probable impact of ecstasy pill-testing on the prevalence of harms--a potentially important tool for policy development. The study also navigated a range of challenges, including the need to manage epistemological differences, changes in the collective design process and modelling focus, the differences between injecting and non-injecting samples and concerns over the dissemination of modelling outcomes.

Conclusions: Agent-based modelling was used to integrate ethno-epidemiological data on psychostimulant use, and to test the probable impact of a specific intervention on the prevalence of drug-related harms. It also established a framework for collaboration between research disciplines that emphasizes the synthesis of diverse data types in order to generate new knowledge relevant to the reduction of drug-related harms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders* / ethnology
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Australia / ethnology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / adverse effects*
  • Harm Reduction / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine