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Plan to take drugs at a festival? Do it in Europe…

As the European festival summer reaches its end, pill analysis reveals Europe's festivalgoers have access to the world's purest ecstasy: 67.1%, compared to 16% in Oz

By Jon Chapple on 22 Aug 2017

Ecstasy pills, MDMA

image © Tanjila Ahmed

New research in the US has laid bare the huge variations in the MDMA content of ecstasy pills in circulation internationally, with European festivalgoers having access to the purest pills – and Australians the least.

The research, shared with IQ by drug rehabilitation service American Addiction Centers (AAC), will further fuel calls for widespread festival pill testing, revealing that ecstasy pills in Europe contain, on average, 67.1% MDMA, compared to 16% in the lowest-ranked territory, Australia.

The average pill in North America is 54.2% MDMA – a figure that drops to 35% in the US specifically and 25% in Canada. In Asia, meanwhile, it is 52.9% MDMA, and in Oceania as a whole 47.3%.

The impurity of the ecstasy sold at music festivals has been blamed for many recent fatalities, including those at Time Warp in Argentina, Closeup Forever Summer in the Philippines and Stereosonic in Australia (where promoter Richie McNeill slammed festivalgoers for “poisoning themselves with these cheap, shitty drugs”).

One solution is pill testing – where festivalgoers are allowed to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption – which is already a common practice in the Netherlands, Austria and Spain, and has recently found support from several UK events.

Pill testing: the cure for music’s drug problem?

Pill testing has also been proposed in Australia, although authorities have been reluctant to allow the practice, lest it be seen as a “tacit” acceptance of drug use at festivals – despite AAC’s data suggesting Australians are most at risk from adulterated ecstasy.

Also of concern to harm-reduction advocates is that drug users have become accustomed to said cheap, shitty drugs, meaning they are at risk of overdose when they take the same amount of pure MDMA; for example, of the type growing in prevalence in Europe.

AAC arrived at its conclusions, which can be read in full here, by analysing more than 25,700 records taken between 2005 and 2017 from PillReports.net.

MDMA purity around the world

AAC warns that without a way to test the content of pills, “people have no way to tell what they are taking just by looking at it. New chemical components are being laced with these drugs every year, and the results can be fatal.”

Kendal Calling, one of the UK festivals to invite drugs charity The Loop to facilitate pill testing – properly ‘multi-agency safety testing’ (MAST) – in 2016, repeated the scheme at this summer’s event, finding concrete, malaria medication and insecticide in pills submitted for analysis.

The Loop’s Fiona Measham says her organisation does not condone drug use, but is focused on harm reduction: “We accept that some people will get drugs on site and some people will be planning to take them,” she says, “so what we’re doing is trying to address any potential health problems.

“This is a focus on public health rather than on criminal justice.”


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