Dr Death joins the decriminalisation debate

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Some sad news – another death from PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine). This is the fourth in Derbyshire in recent months, with two further deaths just over the border in Macclesfield, and a total of eleven deaths recently linked to the drug in the UK. This poor lass was a 24-year-old mental health worker who had been on a river party cruise in Nottingham. Later that night she started convulsing at home in Ilkeston and was dead by the time she reached hospital.

The drug, which is being sold as ecstacy, is not only very toxic, but the toxicity quickly multiplies as doses increase. Couple that with the slow onset of its effects while users are expecting the quick hit of ecstacy, and you have a scenario where people neck more thinking they have a batch of dud pills. It works in much the same way as antidepressants, by inhibiting serotonin reuptake, and so is really not a good idea for anyone on these type of medications.

It seems that only the tabloids are interested in this story. Using their impeccable ability to turn any story into a soap opera, they have named the drug ‘Dr Death’. I’m not quite sure what it has to do with Harold Shipman, or why they feel the need to anthropomorphisise a substance by turning it into an evil physician, but it sparked fury on the Mail’s comment pages. Those able to read the article then type a response missed the point that the victims thought they were taking ecstacy, with comments such as “You’d think that since the drug is called “Dr. Death” people might actually doubt whether it’s safe to take” and “The clues in the name!” (his lack of apostrophe, not mine), or the more resigned “This is what teenagers do these days” *sigh*. My personal favourite, a statement which manages to misconstrue any educated facts into Jeremy Kyle bullshit – “Ecstasy kills. Heroin kills. Crack kills. It may not kill you the first time you take it, or even the 5th but it will get them eventually, that goes without saying. So kids, please, put the common sense into action and live”. Hey kids, just say no, or Dr Death will sneak into your room at night and bum rape you TO DEATH. That goes without saying, it’s common sense. In the name of sweet baby jesus, take the aptly-named Amy Winehouse’s lead and use something safe like vodka – because it’s not a drug, it’s a drink.

In contrast, this story makes me genuinely sad. Yes, people took the drug of their own volition, and yes, drugs are illegal, but these were all young people having a good time, taking what they thought was ecstacy, which they had probably taken many times before. But the sad truth is – the deaths were completely unnecessary. If, as previously considered here, drugs were decriminalised and monitored by Trading Standards, people would know what they were taking, how much, and could even gain access to information about the interactions between the drugs they were taking, for example how PMA interacts with MDMA (which causes serotonin syndrome, leading to severe overheating and convulsions).

Or, in the Netherlands, thirty ‘drop labs’ have been commissioned, where people can take their drugs for free testing. This not only gives users access to information about what they are taking, leading some to claim that it allows them to hold dealers accountable and therefore has improved the quality of drugs being sold locally (meaning increased safety as people know what they are consuming) – but also enables national monitoring of drug trends and purity, and hence improved opportunities for harm reduction interventions. However, this approach of course will only work in a society where attitudes to drugs are more liberal, where there are testing labs in every town, and where people are organised and motivated enough to utilise the facilities. But it’s a start.

If only one of the sensible newspapers would report this story, it could be used to support the decriminalisation debate, then maybe this argument would reach people with influence and we wouldn’t have to see stories like this. I would just like to point out that I am available for freelance work…

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