Tzar Still Favours Rushing Roulette
Michelle Pauli reports on new intiatives to test the contents of Ecstasy tablets.
A new campaign is underway to urge the 'Drug Tzar', Keith Hellawell, to support a programme of Ecstasy testing in clubs.
EZ Test, who market a simple E-testing kit in the UK, have produced free postcards which clubbers can send to the Drug Tzar to show their support for E-testing. The postcards show a picture of Hellawell with 'Needs Testing' written across his forehead while the reverse contains a statement calling for immediate testing facilities in clubs, Hellawell's office address and space for a signature.
EZ Test are keen to point out that the postcard is "not a personal attack on the Drug Tzar, but a fun and accessible campaign with a serious edge to prove public support for E-testing in clubs". EZ Test are also hoping to get funding from the Drug Tzar's office to supply testing kits to drug agencies who can then set up a testing system in clubs similar to that which is in place in Holland.
Hellawell is not known for his sympathies towards E-testing. In a recent interview he declared the testing kits to be 'immoral' and queried the fact that they were even legal in this country. However, EZ Test believe that the weight of public opinion will force him to change his position.
Ecstasy testing is already occurring in clubs, but only in a limited and clandestine fashion. Derek, who tests pills in clubs as part of the Norwich Pill Testing Campaign, does so by persuading clubbers who want their pills tested to go into the gents with him where he tests by torchlight. Derek admits that this is "not an ideal situation". He would like the co-operation of his local Drug Action Team in order to do his work more visibly and effectively but says: "I'm meeting opposition from those who support the government's drug war - they seem to oppose any information being given to users. This is an example of prohibition causing avoidable dangers, I call it harm maximisation".
Part of the problem lies in the 1997 Legg Act which gave police the power to close down any clubs with a 'drug problem'. In this climate club-owners are not rushing to welcome drug testing facilities in their clubs. As a result, Ecstasy testing is much more visible on the free party and festival scene.
The support amongst E-users for testing is evident in the enormous success of the kits which only became available in the UK this year, and from the enthusiasm with which test results have been shared over the internet on the website ecstasy.org's 'E-Testing Database'. Part of the appeal of the kits lies in their simplicity. One drop of the chemical is applied to a scraping from a pill, and the resulting colour change in the liquid reveals that the pill contains one of six chemicals (MDMA, MDEA, MDA, MBDB, amphetamine or 2-CB)... or is a complete dud.
However, the simplicity of the kits have also led to criticism of their effectiveness. The kits can only indicate what the main ingredient of the pill is, and gives no idea of its strength. John Ramsey, a leading toxicologist, states: "I do not believe that reagent in the hands of untrained operators is capable of delivering any worthwhile information. Even when used by trained operators it is always backed up by laboratory analysis". In the Dutch system the limitations of the kits are compensated for by being backed up with a database of test results from laboratory analysis of pills. This is a system which many, including the drug awareness agency Release, would like to see over here. As Ciaran O'Hagan of Release told SQUALL: "The debate has been opened up, showing that there is a huge demand for testing and now we need a precise system with exact analysis such as exists in Holland".
Drug testing booths in clubs would also provide an ideal opportunity for drug agencies to distribute harm reduction information to ecstasy users at source. This type of information is seen to be particularly important at the moment given that data from ecstasy.org shows that there is currently a deluge of 'Ecstasy - the real thing' (MDMA) around the country. All the most popular pills so far this year - elephants, crowns, Mitsubishi, diamonds - have tested positive for MDMA in ranges up to 80mg. Given this situation, it is important that clubbers, used to much weaker pills, are made aware of the current state of the Ecstasy market. The Norwich Pill Testing Campaign already produce a small leaflet containing details of the latest test results in the Norwich area along with warnings about strength, purity and the dangers of taking more than one pill at a time. Those who advocate the safer use of Ecstasy would like to see provision of locality-specific information such as this commonplace across the country. Whether the Drug Tzar will be swayed from his currently hard-line position on the matter remains to be seen.
EZ Test can be contacted on: 01273-241082
The ecstasy.org 'E Testing Database' is at:
TEST PROVES POSITIVE - drug activists launch ecstasy testing kits in Brixton - Squall 16, Summer 1998.
RECREATIONAL DRUG WARS - Ecstasy and the alcohol industry - Squall 12, Spring 1996.