Ecstasy pills. Photograph by DEA/Wikimedia
Following the deaths of two revellers at New York’s Electric Zoo electronic music festival with claims of overdoses of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine or “molly”), and the resultant cancellation of the event on Sunday, ecstasy and illegal drug use more generally has returned to the headlines.
In the UK, as ecstasy use spread with the rave scene in the 90s, when someone died from the effects of the drug it made the frontpage of newspapers with calls to crack down on illegal use of the drug. The problem with this reporting was that the hysterics surrounding the drug prevented the spread of harm reduction information.
Young people have always experimented with drugs, and it is important to make sure that these young people understand the risks they take and how to reduce the chance of injury form their actions. Just as teaching abstinence does not prevent young people having sex or prevent teenage pregnancy, teaching that drugs are just wrong and dangerous will not stop people from taking drugs.
The better educated people are about the risks and harms of certain drugs, the more likely they are to understand that and actual overdose of something like MDMA is very unlikely. The deaths from MDMA are most often due to people overheating, overhydrating, the other chemicals that drugs is cut with when made into ecstasy pills, or people mixing its use with other drugs or alcohol. Overdoses of MDMA can happen, but are extremely rare, and again if young people should be made aware of the warning signs through education – hysteria about a “dangerous” dance drug does not help.
The US website Project Know makes a start at explaining some information about the drug, but it remains focused on trying to scare people away from the drug than explaining the risks in a more open way. However, after decades of discussion in the UK, the website Talk To Frank offers more information and in a way that tries to explain the risks without judging the user, and should be a point of call for information for anyone looking for information about illegal substances.
Other ways to reduce harm from drugs should also be part of the debate. “Reagent” testing kits are available to test the purity of street drugs to make sure that they contain only the substances advertised, and can help users prevent the dangers of unknowingly mixing various substances, with “molly” being found to describe a number of different cocktails including PMA/PMMA, Methamphetamine, 2-C(x), and Cathinones including Mephedrone amongst others according the the website Dancesafe. Dancesafe also shares test results of pills bought in a number of US cities to help users determine what they are taking.
The war on drugs continues to fail across the globe, and the pragmatic approach of education and harm reduction is the only way to address the issue and hopefully avoid future fatalities of young people looking for a new experience.