Club Drugs, A Time For Education

With the subject of club drugs and their use back in the headlines Louder Than War looks into how to make using them, and our clubs, safer.

There’s been yet another tragic death from dangerous MDMA alternative, PMA, alongside other people being hospitalised after inadvertently taking it. Now we have the possibility of a few changing drug laws to reflect a new era within the recreational drug taking realm.

Whether or not the government is actually ready to embrace a new philosophy the possibility is out there, seeping into the consciousness of those creatures in power. Nick Clegg sent a man on his travels to assess the impact of different countries’ approach to drug laws. He went from the most punitive to the most liberal systems with a view to devising a new way forward here. The results are due to be published this side of Christmas. Is it possible that the current climate of risk in Britain’s nighttime economy may be about to get a whole lot safer? It certainly needs to.

Unsuspecting clubbers are falling foul of the volatile drug, PMA, often touted as ecstasy, in frighteningly increasing numbers. A few weeks ago 30 year old Nick Bonnie died after taking what is thought to be PMA at The Warehouse Project in Manchester. Feeling the weight of this terrible event on their shoulders, the Warehouse Project team are admirably trying to balance a zero tolerance drugs policy with attempting to raise awareness. They’re warning their clubbing community about the dangers of PMA whilst imploring people to take all measures possible to remain safe from drug associated harm. Interestingly, they’ve also struck up a relationship with the Home Office who spent an evening at the club last weekend in order to test confiscated drugs.

For the most part, club drug use is recreational and will only last for a limited amount of time in a person’s life. Surely, disseminating information intended to protect club drug users from unnecessary harm whilst they are going through this stage is a realistic and responsible thing to do.

One area of current concern is the insidious barrage of ‘legal highs’. These new formulas, largely untested on humans, are a potential minefield of future physical and mental health problems.

Some drugs prove themselves to be unsuitable for frequent use, as highlighted by ketamine. I used to work in a hospital theatre department, when I started there ketamine was just in the drug cupboard, by the time I left a few years later, it had graduated into the controlled drug cupboard due to its rise in club drug status. It is only fairly recently that we’re learning that habitual use of ketamine can cause serious bladder problems. It causes ulceration and fibrosis which can become severe, causing pain, bleeding and in some cases, the need for bladder removal. Now that’s a really big life change to deal with as an aftermath of drug use, isn’t it? So if ketamine can show itself, further down the line to be a ‘once only’ medication, what could happen with these legal highs? The possibilities are worrying.

Could allowing a safer, researched and regulated alternative club drug such as MDMA to become legal cease the disturbing pattern of ketamine use? Would people feel less need to turn to legal highs as a viable alternative? Surely it would at least make PMA a thing of the past? Are these achievable goals or just naive? It’s a mind boggling subject with many things to consider and I certainly don’t know the answer. I do desperately want things to get safer than they are at the moment though and one good place to start is with solid and effective education.

There are some informative and reliable resources online intended to arm recreational club drug users with knowledge to prevent harm or injury, but this needs to be gained proactively. Arguably there’s a need to capture the more passive consumers who may be vulnerable to the potential harms caused by facets of their drug use that they just aren’t aware of.

For example, I’m not so sure if many people who snort their drugs are aware that they can contract hepatitis C from doing so. This lack of awareness is making people vulnerable. Assuming that a rolled up note is being passed around, only a minuscule spec of virus-laden blood is required from one hepatitis positive person in that group to place the others at risk. Also, studies have proved that hepatitis can live outside the body for up to a month, so what’s to say that the note used hasn’t been used in the same manner somewhere else? Slim chance maybe, but still…

Harm minimisation services advocate using one’s own specific straw or even a rolled up post-it note instead of sharing monetary notes, how many more people could this potentially lifesaving information reach if we had a more appropriate and targeted approach to dissemination?

Maybe if there were more services directed at club drug users instead of just the traditional heroin and crack demographic we could spot and research local and national trends early. There are two NHS funded club drug clinics in the UK at the moment, one in London, the other in Leeds. They will accept referrals from anywhere and are keen to help practitioners from other cities get their skills and knowledge up to speed, but do we need more localised services?

This is a massive topic and I’ve only skimmed over some it, there are more variables involved than I can mention without this turning into an extremely long read. The club drugs culture is evolving and thankfully people are stepping up to grapple with the health and safety aspects of it, let’s hope the right measures are put in place to support and augment that.

All words by Sonj. You can read more from her on Louder Than War here.

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  1. Crew are a charity who give info and advice about psychoactive substances. Their website http://www.mycrew.org.uk has a live chat room for people to share their experiences. Check Crew out.

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