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There's a lot of information on the web about drugs used by clubbers. The details need to be continually updated, as new information about fashions, drug production and drug research becomes available, not something I have either the time or knowledge to do. In addition there is uncertainty about the answers to some basic questions, like why some people die when they take ecstasy.

With regard to the issue of "what do we really know?" I cite two letters sent to The Times in March 2002 by way of example of apparent confusion amongst people who one would expect not to be in disagreement; both were written after the recent publication of the UK government's guidelines called "Safer Clubbing".
This letter, from Robert Sharpe, Programme Officer of the Drug Policy Alliance, based in Washington D.C. was published on March 11th. 2002.

"The Home Office's new guidelines for club drugs like ecstasy will undoubtedly save lives. In addition to providing consumers with practical advice on reducing drug-related harm, dance clubs should be allowed to test pills for purity. So-called ecstacy over-doses are invariably the result of deadly toxins sold as ecstacy.

While the UK adopts a public health approach, the culture wars are heating up in America. President Bush is now pushing "compassionate coercion".

This expansion of zero tolerance does not distinguish between occasional drug use and chronic abuse. Jail sentences and open-ended drug testing will be applied exclusively to users of non-traditional drugs like cannabis.

Unlike alcohol, cannabis has never been shown to cause an overdose death, nor does it share the addictive properties of nicotine. However, cannabis represents Sixties counterculture to misguided reactionaries intent on imposing their version of morality.

The Home Office is to be commended for putting public health before politics."
The reply, published on March 13th. 2002 came from Dr. Leslie A. King, Principal scientific adviser, Drugscope, London.

"Mr. Robert Sharpe writes that "Ecstacy over-doses are invariably the result of deadly toxins sold as Ecstacy". This is part of a wider myth of the "bad batch" that is regretably perpetuated whenever an Ecstasy death is reported in some sections of the media.

I recently retired as head of the Forensic Science Service (FSS). Of the thousands of Ecstacy tablets examined by the FSS over many years, no case of a "deadly toxin" was ever found. A number of other substances are passed off as Ecstacy but these substitutes/fakes pose no more of a health hazard than Ecstacy itself.

This situation is not only true for the UK, but also applies to the US, where most of the Ecstacy consumed originates from clandestine laboratories in Europe. To blame alleged contaminants for the mortality and morbidity associated with the misuse of Ecstasy is misleading. It suggests that if only we could get pure Ecstasy things would be alright. However the pharmacological and toxicological evidence points to the drug itself as the main contributory factor in Ecstasy-related deaths."
King's reply accords with the view of Matthew Collin, in his book Altered State. The copy I have came out in 1997, and then he summed up the debate about ecstacy by saying that basically scientists still don't know why some people die when they take the drug.

The issue is made more complex by the spread of other drugs like ketamine and multiple drug use, including alcohol with E and/or ket.
Risk assessment...

Many clubbers seem to reduce the issue of assessing the risk of taking a pill to simple statistics along the lines of:
  • Approximately 100 people have died over the past ten years from taking ecstasy, (or approximately 10 per year).
  • Approximately 500,000 pills are consumed each week, (making a total of approximately 25,000,000 per annum).*
  • Therefore the chances of dying in a year from taking one pill are 10/25,000,000 or 2.5 million to 1.

    i.e. so remote as to not be worth bothering about.

    It's perhaps worth noting however, that these are the odds of dying from taking one pill in a year and that the odds change with the number of pills consumed.

    If someone took say five pills per week for a year, (250 per year), the odds of dying from taking pills in a year become 10,000 to 1. Taking ten pills a week for a year, (500 a year), bring them down to 5,000 to 1.

    * The EMCDDA, the EU drugs agency, in its 1999 Annual Report of the EU Drug Problem said a conservative estimate for the UK is over one million "doses" every weekend.
There's a difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk can be assessed, (e.g. we can assess the chances of being injured in an airplane accident by looking at the data on past airplane accidents - insurance companies do it all the time). Uncertainty means we just don't know - there's no, or not enough, past evidence to enable us to make an assessment.

As it stands it seems that there is still a lot of uncertainty about many of these questions, meaning that it's not possible to assess all the risks and make a well-informed choice.

Of course, most people actually don't go to much trouble to assess risks anyway, but if you'd like some more info see some of the links below.

Drug Detectors...
Over the past year, police in Birmingham have been making the public, and particualrly drug dealers, aware of their intention to purchase The VaporTracer, a sensitive device used to detect and identify drugs secreted thought a person's sweat. If someone has touched a controlled substance, this will be indicated from traces left in their sweat.

VaporTracer being demonstrated and used at Route, December 2003

Drink is dabbed onto the strip which changes colour if it has been spiked.

Monday 15th. December 203 saw them at Birmigham's gay bar Route, demostrating both that device and a "roofie" tester kit, which detects whether someone's drink has been spiked.

Customers seemed quite happy to be tested with the VaporTracer, though the presence of four uniformed officers handing out leaflets at the entrance to the bar would have inclined anyone worried about being drugged up or having drugs on them not to bother coming in anyway.

The exercise should be seen as part of a wider publicity campaign by the Birmingham force to get the mesasage out that the device has been deployed and will be used wherever it feels appropriate in the city.

Tit Bit...
Have you or a friend ever been thrown out of a club because you looked too mashed?

Ever heard of clubs where they throw clubbers out because they don't want the risk of a death on the premises, which might then lead to the venue being closed?

Here's some guidance for clubs from "Safer Clubbing".
"4.26 On no account, should anyone suffering from the ill effects of drug use be thrown out of the premises. This can cause very serious health consequences. For instance, some ecstasy-related deaths involve hypothermia, hence ejecting someone from a hot club into the cold night air could result in a fatality."

Drugs and Dance Music...

Are drugs and dance music inextricably linked? For many people, incudng many of those who have written about the clubbing scene, the answer seems to be a resounding "YES!" The kinds of reasons given include:
I feel happy.
I feel the the music more intensely.
LOVE people when I'm E'd up.
I can dance forever.
I like to get fucked/trollied/mashed/offmyhead/face.

There's a combination of effects, at least for people on ecstacy, the most popular club drug: a positive change in mood, an intensification of sensation, a sense of increased energy, all of which seem ideally suited to the experience of dance music. However, the last view indicates that there's also a sense of shutting out everything else, something particularly exerienced by those using ketamine. The increased popularity of this drug in clubs, first in London, then in the rest of the UK, has been bemoaned by many experienced clubbers as "anti-social". The view seems to be that whereas e makes people chatty and outgoing, k makes people inward looking and solitary.
and yet, and yet... Well here's an extract from an interview with Paul van Dyk lifted from the e-vent website:

"One of the most interesting aspects of you is that you are one of the few djs that take an active anti-drugs policy. Tell us more about that.

PvD > I wouldn't go as far and say I am anti-drugs. Many people relate the dance/electronic music industry with drugs like ecstasy. All I'm saying that that is not necessarily the case all the time. I started up in East Berlin in the days before the Wall came down, and there were no drugs anywhere in the city. There were no clubs, no records, no djs, and we got into the dance scene thanks to the spill over of the West Berlin radio signals. In that case I can honestly say that everyone there was into the music firstly and fore mostly. None of the East Berlin radio stations were allowed to play dance music, no one could buy the records, and it was all very underground. Our only exposure was via the radio stations of the West, which of course the communist government couldn't stop. Even though we were in effect doing something illegal (listening to the music) - as judged by the dictating government at that time - it was a unifying and liberating experience. Once the wall came down we all rushed to the clubs and the (club culture) scene really exploded. That was back in 1989 - not really such a long time ago. I have a different perspective on drugs and dance music - I don't condone drugs - but I do strongly believe there are people who are into the scene just for the music. I am one of them."

Drugs, Club Promoters and the Police

This is not about what to do if you are stopped by the police carrying a container-lorry load of class A drugs, but rather my take on the multi-faceted nature of government and police policies towards drug dealing and use in clubs, not to mention the attitudes of club promoters. (For info on what to do if stopped by the police try one of the links below). Just as a reminder, I take the view in this site of writing as much about the business of clubbing and club promoting as anything else. My perspective here is to explore some of the ethical business issues of in-club dealing.

The publicly expressed views of the government, (they make the laws), and the police, (they enforce the laws), seem to differ from police behaviour towards drugs in clubs. Generally both condemn drug use and particulalrly, drug dealing, and ever increasing powers to threaten venue owners and promoters have been enacted or proposed over the years. Yet, most clubs seem to have in-house dealers. The much publicised exception of Ministry of Sound only serves to make the point.

In some cases the same dealers operate in clubs for years. In others, the clubs (actually in this case I'm thinking of a bar), know who deals and every so often "give-up" the dealers to help the police with their crime figures. Whatever, both venue owners and promoters can easily know who deals at their club. I'm hardly a detective, but I can figure out who's dealing in a club if I want to find out. Go there for a few weeks and you can readily figure out who's dealing regularly, (i.e. as an income supplement or for a living rather than having a spare pill to flog now and again). If I can know, then you can bet the club knows, the promoter knows and the police can know anytime they want to. Yet drug dealing in clubs continues, with the same people involved year after year after year. Conclusion: despite what they or the government may say, the police don't want to do very much about in-club dealing. Nor do the club promoters nor venue owners.

When we started 2Klub in Manchester my then business partner and I discussed what our policy towards drug dealing should be. We discussed three options:

  • Zero tolerance: anyone found dealing would be thrown out; banned; reported.
  • Tolerate an in-house dealer. The rationale was that if something went wrong (dodgy pill) we'd know who was responsible.
  • Allow a free for all. Ignore any dealing which might go on.

Bear in mind this was Manchester, late 1990s, emerging from a spate of gang violence. There were still gang members being gunned down even while 2Klub was running there. Most doors were run by bouncers allied to one gang or another, though the gay scene had seemed to have been by-passed in that regard, but that may have been wishful thinking on my part. The point being though that there were likely to be vested interests wanting to see some dealing going on at whatever venue we chose to operate the club, (this was before we'd found somewhere to hold events). That said, my view was simple. I had no choice - I could only go for the first option. To do otherwise meant being complicit, something I wasn't willing to be. The rationale for the second option seemed to me to be ludicrous. People bring their own drugs into clubs; how would we know who was responsible if something happened? The step from "tolerating" an in-house dealer, (and who, by the way, would this be; we'd have to know who it was), to asking for a cut of his take seemed to be a small one. Why not, we're allowing him to be there (it's always assumed it's a "he" isn't it) providing a service, and running a club can be a perilous undertaking, putting up money to get the club going - why not get an additional bit of extra income to help sustain the venture. It seemed to me to be just a few small easily "justified" steps to take and we'd be up to our necks in dealing. That was not what I was out to do. However, I have the feeling that I'm more the exception than the rule. More than this of course, as the rumours about big name clubs being into dealing have been rife - one northern club had a notorious door staff, who worked with the in-house dealers and runners, bringing bagfuls of the stuff onto the premises and at the end of the night the police would come round to empty the club's amnesty box!

It is of course at that level when the police seem to take an occasional interest. That club eventually did get raided, and the door staff were changed and police action has led to some well-publicised club closures of course. Home in London closed because they couldn't control the dealing on the premises. Cream suffered a well-publicised raid, and subsequent threats to the venue's license, and not long afterwards, the club closed. Ditto Trade. So the police do take action now and again. But in the main, drug taking and dealing in clubs seem to be tolerated... so long as no one dies. The impact of such tragedies on clubs can be guaged by reading the Sundissential page on this website, though numeorus deaths later, that club marches ever onwards.

The fear of the effect of a death on the premises is of course one of the major reasons why some club staff get people out of the venue as quickly as possible. If someone dies in the street, then it can be argued that the death had nothing to do with the club if the venue's license is threatened.

So, so long as deaths remain at low levels, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. From a policing point of view and crowd control on a Saturday night, policing the streets is much easier when dealing with a bunch of loved-up or mashed clubbers than when dealing with aggressive drunks

This somewhat cosy, some will say commendably tolerant, attitude by the police unfortunately raises some further issues or at least suspicions, for just as it seems so easy for promoters and owners to step across the line from tolerance to deep involvement, so similarly for the police. If members of a force could raid a venue, or go after a particular dealer, but don't, the suspicion starts to be raised that perhaps it's because they are given further incentives than just easy policing not to do so. To what extent then do dealing and police corruption go together? Certainly there has been evidence of at least one famous club being raided not by the local police force, but by an outside force investigating corruption in the local force.

However, when I put this view to one police sergeant he expressed the belief that the issue was simply one of resources. Mounting an in-club operation to identify and arrest an in-club dealer is an expensive and lengthy process, and apparently not as simple as might at first appear.

For anyone thinking of getting into club promotion there are thus a host of ethical issues to consider. They need to be understood and considered well in advance, and any differences in opinion of the main players need to be ironed out, otherwise you or your business partner could go the way of one Leeds club promoter who's been enjoying Her Majesty's hospitality for a few years now, with many more still to come.

Drugs Info

There's lots of sites which can provide drug-related info. Here's a few, from which you can get to others...

DrugScope provides a wide range of drug information.
(Link not working December 20th. 2003)

Based in Solihull, Cascade provides drug information for young people by young people.

Clubhealth provides information on general health issues including drugs.

Ecstacy.org provides info on ecstacy, mainly MDMA they say.

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