Pill Testing MDMA Club Drugs Could Reduce Overdose Deaths

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

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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

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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

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

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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.

Rising Overdose Deaths Caused from Counterfeit or Laced Prescription Opioids

Overdose deaths continue to be on the rise and many of those deaths occur from individuals consuming counterfeit or laced prescription opioids.

Prescription pain relief

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Opioid based pain relievers such as Morphine, Oxycodone, and Hydrocodone were created for doctors to help their patients manage severe to chronic pain. Although they can be helpful for pain, they also mimic the euphoric feeling produced by another addictive opioid: heroin. Far too often, patients become addicted to these pharmaceutical opioids and begin obtaining them elsewhere, outside of a doctor’s care.

Opioid crisis

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are, after marijuana (and alcohol), the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.“ While heroin is extremely dangerous and has definite negative connotations associated with its use, prescription opioid abuse is more common and sadly, often overlooked. Additionally, misusing prescription pain pills can lead to heroin use as well. The NID notes “about 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin and “about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids”.

Rising overdose deaths

Opioid abuse has been declared a crisis throughout Utah and the nation, yet the amount of individuals using and overdosing continues to rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state: “Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”

Fentanyl

While many overdose deaths occur from a person intentionally misusing or overusing a prescription drugs, other deaths are caused by taking counterfeit pills made to look like authentic pain relievers or pills laced with high amounts of other substances. One commonly used ingredient in laced or counterfeit pills is a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. Fentanyl is similar to other prescription opioids such as OxyContin and morphine, however the effects of fentanyl are “50 to 100 times more potent” according to the NID. That potency increase comes at a price though. The NID affirms “Among more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl ( . . . ).”

Laced or phony pills

Sadly, addiction does not allow the danger of fentanyl in prescription drugs to stop individuals from consuming pills bought off the street. Some may think they are doing their due diligence by verifying the pill’s size, color, and imprint on pill checking websites, however many counterfeit prescription drugs on the street look just like original. The only way to know for sure what is contained in a pill is to obtain the medication with a valid prescription. Since that is unlikely to happen for addicts, drug treatment and rehabilitation is encouraged to help those fighting addiction.

Overdose reversal

Loved ones of addicts unable to successfully rehabilitate are encouraged to obtain life saving measures to save their family member or friend should an overdose occur. When a person overdoses on opioids, their respiratory system slows down to a stop which can quickly lead to death. Naloxone, known commercially as Narcan reminds the brain to signal the lungs to breathe. Previously obtainable with a prescription, the nasal spray Narcan is now available over the counter. Walgreens has just announced that nearly 80,000 of their stores across the nation will now be stocked with the lifesaving medication. Until more can be done to prevent mass opioid abuse, at least there are things in place to reduce the lives lost to this dangerous epidemic.

Opioids and Benzos – A Deadly Combination

Opioids and Benzos- two highly addictive drugs that can be obtained illegally or with the help of a physician can be a deadly combination when used together.

Opioids

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Opioids are a type of drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the body, reducing pain while increasing a sense of euphoria. Opioids can come in illegal forms such as heroin or fentanyl or they can be prescribed legally by a doctor. These prescription opioids include the popular:

• OxyContin;
• Morphine;
• Vicodin; and
• Codeine.

Opioids by themselves have caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths last year alone. They are highly addictive, quickly leading to dependency. They who are dependent on opioids commonly misuse them in extreme quantities. Misuse or overuse of opioids can result in respiratory distress and death.

Benzodiazepines (Benzos)

Another “feel good sedative”, Benzodiazepines are “a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or the help with insomnia“ according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The go on to describe common [benzos] as “Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.” Just like opioids, benzos can sedate a person too much, decreasing their breathing to dangerous levels. Combined, Opioids and Benzos are too often deadly.

A deadly combination

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On their website, NIH also states “More than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines”. With both drugs meant to sedate, it is highly likely that the combined effect of both drugs being used simultaneously can suppress breathing to the point of stopping completely. The respiratory system of users is so relaxed, it forgets to intake oxygen.

Help for those with addictions

Those who know individuals struggling with an opioid addiction, inform them of the dangers of mixing benzos with opioids even under a doctor’s care. Those fighting addiction are encouraged to instead look at “effective medications [that] exist to treat opioid use disorders [such as] methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.” Loved ones of addicts should consult with a doctor about obtaining the drug naloxone to reverse an overdose should the unthinkable happen when they are present.