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Ecstasy deaths and warnings

I was contacted by a Brisbane journalist on Friday regarding an ecstasy-related death that occured last weekend. He had already interviewed a young woman who had been at the house party where the young man had died and she she too had experienced severe effects and found herself hospitalised. There was also a great deal of conversation on social media sites and web-based chat rooms about a possible ‘bad batch’ of ecstasy.

The journalist was keen for me to provide some information on a substance known as PMA – a toxic form of amphetamine that has been found in ecstasy pills across the world than has led to a number of deaths. He also asked me to give my opinion on why no warnings had been issued by either health or law enforcement authorities even though someone had died after taking what was obviously a ‘bad pill’.

In all my years of working with the media the one story that ended up causing me the most grief was when I made comment on an ecstasy-related death and it was written up that I was stating categorically that the tragedy was caused by a specific substance. I made no such claim but rather was asked questions about a particular drug and gave the journalist the information she requested – of course, that was not how it was written up!

As you can imagine after that experience I was very hesitant to comment on this tragedy. There have been no toxicology results and therefore we don’t know anything about the substance that may have contributed to the young man’s death. We are really assuming so much and that can get you into real trouble.

Authorities are really ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ here. To issue a specifc warning about a drug without knowing anything about it is fraught with problems. Many ecstasy users don’t believe health authorities and law enforcement anyway, if a warning is issued and then found later to be inaccurate, it will only reduce the credibility of any warnings that may be released in the future. If they don’t do something and there is another death, the media will be savage.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. There were a ‘cluster’ of ecstasy-related deaths in Canada earlier this year that were related to PMA. Authorities certainly do need to make sure this death is examined quickly and if specific warnings are needed, issue them in an appropriate way by credible authorities.

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