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Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

Youth (STDW) - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 07:27

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

[image:1 align:left]According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

[image:3 align:left caption:true]"It's not that producers don't care, it’s that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental—a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.  

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a non-profit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Categories: Youth

CN ON: Youth Crime On Decline

Youth (MAP) - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 08:00
Standard Freeholder, 12 Dec 2014 - The good news is Cornwall is a safer place this year than than it was last year. Chief Dan Parkinson told the Cornwall Community Police Board that crime rates are down across the board. "It's a good news story," said Parkinson.
Categories: Youth

CN ON: Probe Targets Sick Kids Hair Tests

Youth (MAP) - Fri, 11/28/2014 - 08:00
Toronto Star, 28 Nov 2014 - Province Launches Review Of Controversial Motherisk Lab Program After Star Stories Queen's Park will probe five years' worth of hair drug tests performed by the Hospital for Sick Children, used in child protection and criminal cases, amid an ongoing Star investigation.
Categories: Youth

Canada: Kids Using E-Cigarettes To Toke Up, Tory MP Says

Youth (MAP) - Thu, 11/27/2014 - 08:00
Chronicle Herald, 27 Nov 2014 - OTTAWA - Teenagers are using electronic cigarettes to discreetly inhale marijuana in front of teachers and parents, a Conservative MP said Thursday. The House of Commons health committee is studying e-cigarettes and how they should be regulated.
Categories: Youth

US OR: OPED: Legal Pot Will Take Its Toll Among Teens

Youth (MAP) - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 08:00
The Register-Guard, 16 Nov 2014 - Let me begin by acknowledging that the sky will not fall next July once the adult recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Oregon. In fact, the new voter-approved law reforms criminal justice practices relating to marijuana possession, and it directs 25 percent of the revenue from the marijuana tax to drug education and treatment, and 40 percent of the revenue to public schools. These are welcome things, the cognitive dissonance of drug-built, drug-free schools notwithstanding.
Categories: Youth

Canada: Column: Stop Playing Politics With Teens' Brains. Legalize

Youth (MAP) - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 08:00
Globe and Mail, 10 Nov 2014 - Tobacco is addictive, dangerous and responsible for thousands of deaths in Canada each year. Imagine if the federal government tried to deal with that massive threat by making tobacco illegal and throwing anyone caught with a cigarette in jail. Would that put a stop to smoking? Or simply drive it underground and tie up valuable resources trying to enforce a ban destined to fail?
Categories: Youth

CN ON: Sick Kids Stands Behind Discarded Drug-Test Method

Youth (MAP) - Sat, 11/08/2014 - 08:00
Toronto Star, 08 Nov 2014 - Hair Analysis Technique No Longer Used but Questions Linger After Reversal of Cocaine Convictions The Hospital for Sick Children is defending the reliability of the hair-strand tests performed by the Motherisk program as calls are mounting for government to review the laboratory's analysis, which has had bearing on possibly thousands of child protection cases.
Categories: Youth

CN ON: Program To Get Teens And Parents Talking About Drugs

Youth (MAP) - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:00
Oakville Beaver, 06 Nov 2014 - The federal government estimates 80,000 Canadian youths used prescription drugs to get high last year and has launched a marketing campaign to get parents talking to teenagers about the effects of illicit drugs, including marijuana. Halton MP Lisa Raitt recently launched the Health Canada campaign in Oakville as part of the government's $44.9-million, five-year expanded National Anti-Drug Strategy.
Categories: Youth

CN BC: South Fraser Teens Making Healthier Choices, Study Shows

Youth (MAP) - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:00
Surrey Leader, 06 Nov 2014 - Fewer teens South of the Fraser are drinking or taking drugs than five years ago, according to a comprehensive new study that paints a generally improved portrait of adolescent health in B.C. The McCreary Centre Society surveyed 30,000 B.C. students in grades 7 to 12 in 2013 and released itsdetailed report Tuesday on the Fraser South region, which includes Delta, Surrey and Langley school districts.
Categories: Youth

UK: Column: Legal Drugs Will Destroy Our Kids

Youth (MAP) - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 07:00
The Mirror, 02 Nov 2014 - My blood boils when I hear loony liberal politicians (I'm thinking Nick Clegg) and middle class do-gooders telling us that ALL drugs should be legalised. That heroin, crack cocaine and LSD should all be freely available - even to teenagers. Their argument is that if the State was in charge of the drugs industry instead of criminal gangs then the drugs wouldn't be toxic and fewer people would die.
Categories: Youth

UK: I Don't Want My Children to Think Drugs Are OK, Says

Youth (MAP) - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 07:00
Daily Telegraph, 31 Oct 2014 - DAVID CAMERON is refusing Liberal Democrat calls to review the Government's drugs policy, warning that as a parent he does not want to send out the message that taking illegal substances is "OK or safe". The Prime Minister insisted that the current approach to drugs was having an impact as abuse was falling, following a major Coalition row sparked by a Home Office report backed by the Lib Dems that suggested easing laws on hard drugs would not increase the number of users. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday attacked the Tory party's "facile" and "frightened" approach to drugs after Downing Street distanced itself from the report. Mr Cameron said yesterday that changing Britain's drugs policy would be "dangerous".
Categories: Youth

US WA: Check The Kids' Treats, Don't Fear Pot Tricks

Youth (MAP) - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 07:00
Seattle Times, 31 Oct 2014 - SPD Tells Parents to Take Usual Precautions Just Candy in Original Wrap Seattle police say to watch your children's Halloween candy closely, but don't be too concerned about pot-infused treats sneaking in.
Categories: Youth

US CO: Column: Will Kids Get Pot Candy On Halloween?

Youth (MAP) - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 07:00
Westword, 30 Oct 2014 - Dear Stoner: Do you think the Denver Police Department is right, and kids are going to get pot candy in their bags? Frank N. Stein Dear Frank: Not at all. This is just an updated version of the tired old story that fearmongering cops - and paranoid parents - have been pushing since the '70s. The idea is that some mythical Halloween Scrooge is out to hurt kids by giving away tainted candy.
Categories: Youth
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