According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, club drugs such as MDMA “tend to be used by teenagers and young adults at bars, nightclubs, concerts, and parties.” There are companies who are attempting to promote pill testing at parties to help reduce the amount of overdose deaths associated with MDMA use.
MDMA drugs such as ecstasy or “Molly’s” have been popular in the party scene since the 1980’s and news stories across the world blame the club drug for a slew of overdose deaths. NIDA reports that MDMA can “cause a number of acute adverse health effects [such as] Involuntary jaw clenching, lack of appetite, mild detachment from oneself (depersonalization), illogical or disorganized thoughts, restless legs, nausea, hot flashes or chills, headache, sweating, and muscle or joint stiffness.” NIDA notes however that “fatal overdoses on MDMA are rare”. So why are so many overdose deaths being blamed on MDMA drugs?
Laced or bad batches of street drugs
What many news stories fail to note about the numerous MDMA overdose deaths is that although the victim was found to have ingested a pill containing 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, there is a high chance the overdose was caused by another ingredient in the pill. While MDMA does have a risk of death through severe reactions such as hypertension, seizures and even hyperthermia, the common cause of overdoses come from it being a higher dose than expected, an altered formula or from it being laced with other drugs such as fentanyl, mCPP, methamphetamine, or even high amounts of caffeine.
Deadly trust exercise
MDMA drugs are created and distributed illegally, with no quality control being done to ensure the safety of the user. Many teens and young adults buy illegal MDMA drugs from people, giving their full trust in the illegal vendors to not sell them something deadly. While it should be common knowledge to be wary of a drug dealer seeing how their profession is based on deceiving law enforcement, it is possible the one pushing the MDMA at parties isn’t sure what the pills contain either. This can result in loss of life for the user and aggravated criminal charges for the distributor. Beyond law enforcement’s regular attempts to control the amount of club drugs dispersed at parties, what can be done to reduce the overdose deaths of those who take them anyway?
Pill testing, otherwise known as adulterant testing has been becoming popular in Europe as well as Australia and is slowly gaining ground in the U.S. Pill testing can be done using a kit purchased online at sights such as Walgreens and even Amazon. Pill testing can also be done through a professional laboratory. The at home kits are done by scraping a portion of the pill off into the testing liquid and looking for color changes that signify another substance. While many ingredients can be detected through one of the several pill testing kits on the market, they don’t catch everything which can still put users at risk. Laboratory testing is the most thorough method of decoding a pill’s synthetic “makeup”. This can be time consuming and expensive as well as putting the one wanting the test at risk of arrest for possession. Often the option to take club drugs is last not known until the event anyway.
Pill testing on site
For those who find themselves at a party where club drugs are circulating and they haven’t had the opportunity to test the illegal drug before consumption, there are harm reduction groups that want to offer pill testing on-site: at parties, clubs, raves, etc. Knowing the drugs are inevitably going to show up at the scene anyway, these groups want to offer on-site testing of pills to help reduce the amount of overdose deaths by letting users know exactly what they are taking. Unfortunately, many club owners or party hosts do not want to have this service offered as it could make them or their customers a target from police backlash. There is fine line between enabling drug users and ensuring they get high safely and it is time for everyone to work together to save lives while continuing to educate on the harmful effects of illegal street and club drugs.