As some of you may know, and as I blogged on recently, there have been a rach of “ecstasy” related deaths in Canada due to the pills containing the drug PMMA. ecstasy pills are supposed to be the drug MDMA, which when used sensibly is a remarkably safe drug. But the sad truth is that the majority of ecstasy pills either contain no MDMA whatsoever but instead other drugs that “mimic” MDMA, or contain small amounts of MDMA mixed with these other substances.
Currently, the US based harm reduction group Dancesafe, partnered with Toronto’s Trip! Project, are preparing to distribute reagent test kits that will allow users to identify whether their ecstasy pills contain PMMA. And of course- the authorities are incensed.
The reality is that many drug related deaths are preventable, and are a direct result of prohibition that puts production and distribution into the hands of criminal organizations. And while these groups have no interest in killing their clients, they also have little motivation to ensure quality.
We could learn a lot from these lessons- it is Capitalism at its purest. There are no regulations, no oversight, no quality control, and no real threat of prosecution for producing an inferior or dangerous product. The only motivation is profit. Lets just make a product thats “good enough”.
Now in several European countries (switzerland, netherlands, spain, portugal, among others) that have come to terms with the irrefutable fact that people will do drugs regardless of laws, they have become much more accepting of a harm reduction approach. Many allow either government, or privately run drug testing programs, that offer GC/MS lab testing of drugs to analyse exactly what they contain, and in what quantities. At many festivals these groups are allowed to set up their lab equipment, and do testing on the spot. This has two major effects- people can know exactly what the drug contains, and in what quantities. It also puts producers and distributors on notice- don’t waste your time producing an inferior and potentially dangerous product- you will be found out and you will be unable to sell your product.
But in the US, Canada, and the UK- such harm reduction techniques are either outright prohibited, or strongly discouraged. Event organizers are told such things prove they know there will be illegal drug use, which then puts them at risk of legal prosecution, lawsuits, and revocation of permits.
In the US labs such as DDL, which does the testing for http://www.ecstasydata.org are allowed to do testing, but are forbidden from releasing the exact quantities of the various components. Are they are not allowed to do onsite, realtime testing. Samples must be mailed in and processed, and then the results posted- a process then can easily take a month.
Dancesafe used to offer testing at some events years ago, but for reasons already stated above no longer do.
The message, overwhelmingly, seems to be that the more people that get sick or die, the better a message it sends for prohibition.
It disturbs me greatly that the prohibitionists are so absolute, that they deny any responsibility whatsoever for playing a role in creating this dangerous situation, and then try and block or at least discourage any attempts by the community to mitigate these problems.
So the next time you read of one of these deaths, remember: The individual did these substances regardless of prohibition, and the government, and by extension you, refused to allow the harm reduction that may have saved that persons life.