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Oz festivalgoer busted – after writing his name on drugs

A man was arrested at an Australian music festival after police identified him as the owner of a bag of MDMA – because he’d written his name and phone number on it.

The 21-year-old man, from Dalby, Queensland, was detained at Maroochydore Music and Visual Arts Festival on 26 August after police sniffer dogs discovered a ziplocked bag containing the party drug on his person.

The hapless festivalgoer forfeited any plausible deniability as to the ownership of the drugs when, according to Queensland Police Service senior constable Ben Cole, officers made the “surprising” discovery that the bag had “[Name]’s MDMA, if found call [number]” scrawled on it marker pen. “One can never be too careful,” jokes Cole.

The man will appear in Maroochydore magistrates’ court on 29 September on drug possession charges.

“One can never be too careful”

More than 6,300 people attended the one-day festival, which was headlined by local heroes Alison Wonderland, Bernard Fanning, the Presets and Gang of Youths.

Police made 52 drug-related arrests at the festival, although Maroochydore police’s Matt Robertson said attendees were, on the whole, well behaved. “Unfortunately however, several individuals were spoken to relating to drug matters,” said Senior Sergeant Robertson.

A recent study analysing more than 25,000 records from PillReports.net found Australia’s ecstasy is among the least pure in the world, with pills containing on average just 16% MDMA.


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

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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Support for festival drug testing grows in UK

Respected UK charity the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has called for drug-testing facilities, such as those trialled at Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party last summer, to be made standard at all music festivals “where drug use is common”.

In a new report, Drug safety testing at festivals and night clubs, released this morning, RSPH says the move, “which is backed by 95% of festival-goers, [would] help minimise the risk of serious health harm as a result of recreational drug use”.

Secret Garden Party became last July became the first British festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.

RSPH’s own data suggests a similar figure of almost one in five (18%).

Drug testing at both festivals was undertaken in partnership with nonprofit The Loop, which will also introduce the testing – officially ‘multi-agency safety testing’ (MAST) – at several Festival Republic events this summer, including Reading and Leeds.

“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances”

MAST, or a local variant thereof, is already commonplace in continental Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria and Spain. Efforts to introduce drug testing in Australia have been frustrated by local government and police, with festival promoters in New South Wales told they could face prosecution for drug supply.

According to RSPH, the need for pill testing at festivals has become more acute with the rise in strength of the average ecstasy pill. As reported by IQ last May, MDMA use is on the rise across Europe, with a simultaneous increase in the availability of high-MDMA pills and powdered and crystal forms of the drug.

“Given that a large degree of health harm associated with ‘club drugs’ stems from user ignorance of the exact strength and content of pills and powders of uncertain provenance, any measures that increase our knowledge base can be expected to have a positive effect on reducing harm – especially if the provision of such information creates an opportunity to impart information on safer behaviours and risk reduction to the key target population,” reads the RSPH report.

“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, then they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances, and so are less likely to have an adverse reaction or overdose as a result.”

MAST, therefore, says RSPH, is a “pragmatic harm reduction measure” which should “become a standard feature of places where drug use is prevalent, such as city-centre nightlife areas and festivals.”


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Fabric death caused by MDMA toxicity

As London’s Fabric nightclub gears up to reopen this weekend, an inquest has found that MDMA toxicity was what caused the second death in the venue within six weeks last year.

Jack Crossley, aged 18, died in August from a cardiac arrest after visiting the London club. He had 2.2 micrograms of MDMA in every millilitre of his blood, according to the GuardianThe dose was “well within the fatal range,” said toxicologist Joanna Hockenhull. Crossley’s death came soon after that of Ryan Browne, who, also aged 18, collapsed and died from the same causes at the end of June.

Islington Borough Council then revoked the club’s license after a six-hour debate that found a “culture of drug use” at the 2,500-capacity superclub which “security appears incapable of controlling”. However, the venue announced in November it was to reopen after agreeing to make changes to its management structure and introduce stricter searches, covert surveillance and lifetime bans for anyone found to be in possession of drugs.

Philip Kolvin QC, a licensing lawyer who represented Fabric in its successful bid to have its licence reinstated, has since been appointed chairman of London’s Night Time Commission.

Crossley’s friend, Josh Green, told a court inquest the duo had smuggled crystal MDMA into the venue in their underwear and had taken it intermittently throughout the evening before running out.

Green said Crossley was then offered to buy more from a dealer in the club and they both said yes. It was while leaving the venue at 5.30am that Crossley appeared unwell and a doorman took him to the medical bay, where a paramedic found his pulse to be 190BPM and called an ambulance. He suffered a cardiac arrest while in the ambulance and again at the Royal London hospital. Resuscitation attempts were stopped at 8.58am.

“I believe that the metabolic effects of the drug reaction were so severe that there was nothing else that teams could have done that would have had a significant effect on the outcome,” said the doctor.

Fabric GM Luke Laws said while there would have been no way to detect the MDMA Crossley and Green were carrying when entering the club, that he had taken measures to ensure the club has no dark corners and that staff had been retrained to conduct stricter searches.

Laws told the court “there is a problem between crime and disorder and public health,” and that more needs to be done to warn over the strength of ecstasy.


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Use of MDMA, designer drugs on the rise in Europe

The use of MDMA – the drug of choice for many ravers and one frequently blamed for the spate of deaths currently plaguing the dance music scene – is on the rise in Europe, reflecting a resurgence in popularity for a drug whose prevalence had previously been on the decline from peak levels in the early-to-mid-2000s.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)’s 2016 European Drug Report, 2.1 million European Union (EU) citizens aged between 15 and 34 used MDMA (ecstasy) in 2014: an increase of 300,000 on the previous year.

The Netherlands, long Europe’s leading manufacturer of MDMA, seized 2.4m ecstasy tablets in 2012, and although there is no data available for 2014, “if a similar figure is assumed for 2014” EMCDDA estimates that “around 6.1m MDMA tablets were seized in the European Union in that year” – more than double the amount of seizures in 2009.

EMCDDA MDMA map, Europe, 2014

The EU is also seeing a rise in the number of high-potency ecstasy pills “after a period when reports suggested that the majority of tablets sold as ecstasy in Europe contained low doses of MDMA or none at all,” the report says. “Reports indicate an increased availability both of high-dose MDMA tablets and of MDMA in powder and crystal forms.”

EMCDDA expressed concern about MDMA producers’ “use of sophisticated and targeted marketing” and production of “high-dose powders, crystals and tablets with a range of logos, colours and shapes” to give the impression of quality “after a lengthy period in which poor drug quality and adulteration had resulted in a decline in use”.

Use of new designer drugs, such as those responsible for the deaths at Time Warp festival, is also on the rise as their numbers continue to grow

“There are signals that this may be achieving some success,” it said, “with indications that MDMA is becoming more popular, both with established stimulant consumers and with a new generation of young users.”

Many recent festival deaths, such as those at Time Warp in Argentina in April, came after victims ingested MDMA laced with an unregulated designer drug, or ‘new psychoactive substance’ (NPS). Use of NPSes, many of them legal, is also on the rise as their numbers continue to grow (although legislation such as the UK’s new Psychoactive Substances Act – a blanket ban on any psychoactive drugs that aren’t “food, alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, caffeine and medical products” – should bring the numbers down in 2016): In 2015, 98 new substances were detected for the first time, reports EMCDDA, bringing the number of new substances monitored to more than 560, of which 70% were detected in the last five years.