Ecstasy-related deaths make drug use a gamble

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In the past few months there have been an unusual number of ecstasy related deaths in B.C. and Alberta. Ecstasy has been a popular drug of choice for adolescents and young adults for many years. The East Kootenay Adolescent Drug Use surveys have shown that Ecstasy is the only substance to have a steady increase in use in the East Kootenay from 2005 to 2011, going from 4.7 per cent of youth reporting lifetime use in 2005 to 8.7 per cent in 2011. 16 per cent of Grade 12 students in the East Kootenay have used Ecstasy at least once.

Ecstasy, or MDMA (methylenedioxymeth-amphetamine), is a chemical in the amphetamine group, and is related to other amphetamines such as Ritalin, Dexedrine or crystal methamphetamine (“crystal meth”). Sold as a pill or tablet, it is a stimulant that produces a sense of euphoria, increased energy, feelings of connectedness with others and has mild hallucinogenic properties.

Ecstasy initially became popular as a “club drug” and would be used at all night dance parties or raves. In its pure form, ecstasy is relatively non-toxic in low doses. Death was uncommon and would occur when users became dehydrated or overheated from excessive exertion, or as a result of an extreme negative reaction to the chemical.

One of the key concerns with ecstasy use is that the user has no way of knowing the purity of what they are buying. RCMP analyses of seized drugs sold as ecstasy in B.C. show that a very low percentage are actually pure ecstasy. Most drugs sold as ecstasy contain a variety of other psychoactive chemicals, and many contain no ecstasy at all. This makes use much riskier, as the user can never know exactly what drug they are getting or at what dosage. Because people can react differently to different drugs, a person who has had a non-problematic experience with what they thought was ecstasy one time may have a very negative and potentially lethal experience with the next batch of drug. This appears to be what happened in some of the recent Alberta and B.C. deaths.

Another complicating factor is that some youth are now taking multiple doses of ecstasy at one time. We have had local youth telling us of taking seven or more “hits” of ecstasy over the course of an evening. Increasing the dosages increases the risks. This, coupled with the uncertainty of what is actually in the pills being taken, makes any ecstasy use a real gamble.

Furthermore, ecstasy is a drug that people can become addicted to. There is also evidence of persistent mood and thought disorders as a result of regular use, even after people having stopped using.

If anyone has questions about ecstasy or any other drugs, please contact the local East Kootenay Addiction Service office at 250-428-5547 or 1-877-489-4344.

— BY DEAN NICHOLSON (East Kootenay Addictions Services)