The latest figures on drugs deaths in England paint a pretty bleak picture.
According to the stats from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 2,248 people died as a result of using illegal drugs last year. This is the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. And worryingly, the figures show a sharp rise in deaths related to MDMA, cocaine, and heroin.
Deaths involving heroin and morphine increased by nearly two-thirds between 2012 and 2014; from 579 to 952. Grimly, it was a similar story for cocaine users, with an unprecedented increase in deaths; from 169 in 2013 to 247 last year.
What The Statistics Tell Us
The ONS attributes the growing number of cocaine deaths to an increasing purity of the street-level substance.
I’m happy to admit I don’t know much about cocaine, and even less about heroin. But I do know a little bit about MDMA, so here’s my two cents worth:
The report shows deaths linked to MDMA increased steadily from eight in 2010 to 50 last year. This is thought to be a result of a huge surge in the purity of MDMA crystals and pills, sometimes referred to as ‘ecstasy’.
Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University, told The Guardian last year that the average strength of an MDMA pill in 2014 was 100mg, far stronger than 20-30mg in 2009. The strength, price, and tragically, deaths, have all risen in unison.
Seasoned users recognise the increase in strength and have adapted accordingly. The same people taking five in a night in 2008/09 are now taking one over a period of six hours, for instance.
The problem comes when an 18-year-old, with no history of taking drugs, is given a pill at a club night or festival. They wouldn’t think to split a pill in half, because, why would they? You don’t split vitamins, paracetamol, or any other pills. But some pills knocking about at the moment contain up to 275mg of MDMA, Mixmag reported – way too much MD for anybody to be taking at once.
Who’s Tackling The Problem, And Who Definitely Isn’t
This summer, drug welfare charity The Loop spearheaded an initiative designed to make people think about their consumption. The campaign, Crush-Dab-Wait, was started partly in response to the 83 per cent crystalised MDMA found doing the rounds in the UK.
The idea is a simple one: instead of ingesting a crystal, which can have unpredictable results, crush it into a powder and after you’ve taken it, wait at least a couple of hours before you re-dose. Practical, scientific advice. But, ridiculously, realist harm prevention advice like this is widely seen to have no place in our schools, colleges or universities.
Disseminating Misinformation And The War On Drugs
Because these drugs are illegal, few people are upfront about whether they choose to use them, which then hampers education. Instead of proper drug education, we have school talks by clueless police officers who wouldn’t know drug culture if it snorted a line off their foreheads. It’s not their fault, they just know nothing about drugs.
They are telling kids that smoking a bit of weed will result in them contracting schizophrenia. Kids know that’s not the case because half their friends smoke cannabis, so everything they say is immediately dismissed as propaganda. The police will push the failed agenda and focus on the prospective criminal penalties for possessing drugs. Again, the problem lies with the fact that kids will already know people who smoke weed who aren’t in prison, so they know it’s bullshit.
Scientific research becomes sidelined as government advisers who outline the truth are sacked and have to rely on philanthropic donations to fund their research. The UK government has been trying to use scare tactics since the announcement of President Nixon’s doom-struck War on Drugs in the early ’70s. Their current tactics are ineffective, and will never stop people enjoying themselves with illegal substances. People have been doing it for 5,000 years and are simply not going to stop any time soon.
The way festivals and club nights have reacted to the wave of deaths at music events has thrown petrol on the flames. Some in the know have argued that increased security measures have backed clubbers into a corner and forced them to neck their uber-strong drugs on the way into the venue.
The Human Cost Of Drug Criminalisation
If MDMA was legal it would be a regulated product which would vastly reduce the problem. After all, when you buy a 70cl bottle of spirits from the supermarket, an amount of a toxic drug that could easily kill, you know roughly how intoxicated it will get you.
This is because the companies that sell it have a legal obligation to provide you with that information on the packaging. Imagine if, when you wanted to take alcohol, the bar staff gave you a nondescript bottle that could either be 3.5 per cent lager, 80 per cent absinthe, or literally anything in between. That’s what taking MDMA is like right now.
Getting High Online
The introduction of the Deep Web, also known as the Dark Web, could also be contributing to overdoses. Via these streams, drug users can log on to the Deep Web anonymously using Tor browser, and access the sites that are not indexed by standard search engines. A lot of these sites sell drugs, and due to Ebay-style buyer and seller ratings, loads of these drugs have very high purity.
A few years ago, 80 per cent pure MDMA was only available to the well-connected few, but now absolutely anyone can have any drug at all delivered to their address. In other words, many more people can get hold of very pure drugs without any prior knowledge of the drug world.
MDMA Is Everywhere
Another issue could be that MDMA has simply become more popular. Due to the illegal, and therefore secret, nature of drug use, it’s difficult to get accurate figures on who’s taking what. But, house music has certainly become a lot more popular in recent years and it’s fairly accepted that MDMA use is synonymous with the scene.
The music press have also highlighted societal changes in norms and values that could be responsible for an overall increase in MDMA consumption. This Thump feature argues that whereas taking the party stimulant used to be considered unfeminine, girls are now more likely than ever to partake in the odd disco biscuit. Though it’s useful to note that these recent ONS figures show that 2.5 times more males died from drug misuse than females last year.
Who knows? There are so many chemical, sociological and educational factors at play. The simple way to avoid overdosing on drugs is obviously to not take them. But since we don’t live in a fairytale world of pixies and unicorns, many will choose to take them despite the dangers.
Opinion piece by .