Dance till you drop: ecstasy overdoses and undereducated youth

Ecstasy or MDMA-related deaths could be preventable.

By Bianca Pencz
[culture editor]

A drug is a powerful thing, not just chemically or physically, but culturally. This year, ecstasy — or MDMA as it’s known in its purer form — was popular not just among ravers, but among bored teenagers and college-going students alike.

Unfortunately, widespread usage hasn’t translated into widespread education on the risks and safety of taking ecstasy or MDMA. Overdoses or deaths related to the drug have occurred here in Canada, in the United Kingdom, and so frequently in the United States that an entire music festival in New York was canceled.

EDM artist Diplo recently made waves with comments to Rolling Stone magazine on the lack of education youth are receiving about drug safety.

“It’s going to sound weird, but we need to teach kids how to do drugs, the same way we teach them about drinking responsibly and having safe sex,” he’s quoted as saying. “Instead of acting like drugs don’t exist, acknowledge that drugs will be at a festival and address them.”

“How to stay safe when you’re doing drugs” is not the kind of lesson you’re going to learn from a school textbook. (Bianca Pencz/The Runner)

“We’re such a conservative culture that we’d rather not talk about the things kids want to do, even though they’re going to do them anyway. We’d rather ignore it to solve the problem.”

Lisa Campbell, current outreach director of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and a member of the DanceSafe board of directors, agrees that ignorance is the worst approach.

“The CSSDP sees drug use as a public health issue versus a criminal concern,” she says. “According to B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and other public health experts, MDMA is a substance with lesser harms than alcohol when at its pure form, at a proper dose.”

“What is killing youth is not MDMA, but the adulterants that are added to MDMA in an unregulated market. [In fact] the only way you can be sure that you are taking real MDMA is if you test it.”

Indeed, some of the people who died in this country after taking ecstasy unknowingly ingested pills that contained PMMA, as reported in the Huffington Post. The toxic chemical was given the cutesy nickname “Dr Death” by the media.

Campbell says her and her organization do a number of things to reduce the likelihood of anything similar happening again. There are some main tips that everyone who eats E should know, like drinking plenty of water to keep from overheating, but also not drinking too much in order to avoid water-poisoning. (Yes, that is a thing.)

Taking too big of a dose is always a recipe for disaster, and Campbell says that asking a trusted friend to stick by you, ready to get you medical attention as soon possible if anything should go wrong, is never something you’ll regret.

“On top of information, we also provide tools to reduce the harm, including straws for safer snorting and in some cases drug testing kits,” she says. “This model of peer education is mainstream in Europe, with an European Union funded network consisting of hundreds of government funded organizations which provide the same services.”

“We are hoping to build a similar network in North America, linking the TRIP! Project, DanceSafe, and other safer partying groups.”

With ecstasy becoming more mainstream, Campbell says that drug education needs to become mainstream in turn.

While pop stars like Miley Cyrus sing about “dancing with Molly” — another nickname for MDMA — and indie darlings like Sky Ferreira are arrested for ecstasy possession, Campbell says adults have an obligation to talk about drug use with younger people, and not just try to sweep the pills under the rug.

“Drug education needs to be not fear-based, but fact-based. And authorities need to partner with organizations like DanceSafe to deliver these messages,” she says.

“We need to empower youth to take control of their health, rather than stigmatizing them as drug users. Just because we provide information on safer drug use doesn’t mean we are enabling someone to use drugs.”

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