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

Photo by: Simon Law

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.

Sentencing Entrapment and Manipulation

Sentencing entrapment and manipulation are both claims of injustice that can be made by a defendant during sentencing if they feel they were encouraged to commit a serious crime by authorities or if they committed or are facing a higher sentence than necessary.

Sentencing entrapment & manipulation

Sentencing Entrapment

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According to the case of Leech v. State, “Sentencing entrapment is said to occur when the State causes a defendant initially predisposed to commit a lesser crime to commit a more serious offense.” Sentencing manipulation on the other hand is defined as “when the government engages in improper conduct that has the effect of increasing a defendant’s sentence.” (United States v Garcia). Although Sentencing entrapment and sentencing manipulation have slightly different meanings, they are often used interchangeably in court.

Drug busts

Sentencing entrapment and manipulation can occur during organized stings or through the encouragement or persuasion of an officer or informant. All too often these cases of inflating offenses involve drugs. When drugs are involved, there are several ways in which a simple drug charged could be blown up to become something more.

• An undercover agent may know a suspect is a known drug user but not a dealer. By asking the suspect to sell drugs to the undercover officer, he can then be charged with not only possession but also distribution.

• The same bloating of charges can occur if someone sells narcotics and the agent asks the suspect to sell more to have them reach a distribution amount that carries higher penalties.

• In the case of Unites States v. Walls, the undercover DEA agent asked the suspect to supply him with crack and was given powdered cocaine instead. After insisting that he wanted crack and not cocaine, the suspect then complied and had it cooked by a third party. When asked in court why the DEA agent requested crack from the suspect and not cocaine, the agent’s reply was: “Well, crack cocaine is less expensive than [powder] cocaine, and we felt like through our investigation, that it takes fifty grams of crack cocaine to get any target over the mandatory ten years.”

Prostitution

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Prostitution is another common area where sentencing entrapment and manipulation arise frequently; such was the case of Taylor Hummel of southern Utah. Hummel was actively soliciting sex from adults, but through his internet ad and other communication he never stated he wanted children involved. The undercover agent offered prostitution services to which Hummel agreed. The agent then offered a 13 year old girl to be involved with the sexual exploits as well. Hummel was hesitant but did not decline. When the time for the exchange took place, Hummel mentioned he had reservations about a minor being involved and did not pay for sexual services from her. Although he only sought and paid for adult prostitution (Class B misdemeanor) he was still charged with conspiracy to commit child rape (a first degree felony). Had the offer not been made by an undercover agent, Hummel may never have even thought of including minors in his sexual addictions.

The Big Fish story

For whatever reason or hidden agenda, sometimes the crime that a suspect is recognized as being guilty of is not sufficient. It is then that sentencing entrapment and manipulation occurs by officers who wish to create a more serious offense to snare the suspect with. There are several theories as to why police officers would want to be involved in sentencing entrapment.

• Acknowledgement or a pat on the back from their department and the public if the officer helps bring in a serious offender, or “the big fish”;

• The not-talked-about “quotas” that they are unofficially expected to meet;

• Increased chance of promotions or even incentives such as bonuses for making a certain type of arrest; or possibly

• Overtime pay. Many precincts give their officers overtime pay if they are forced to work past their shift in order to complete the arrest and the paperwork that follows. Additionally, overtime pay is often given to law enforcement to be present or even on-call during a court hearing that results from an arrest.

Outrageous official conduct

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Sentencing entrapment and manipulation has been referred to as “outrageous official conduct [that] overcomes the will of an individual” (United States v Jacobsen). In many cases, if officers would have refrained from getting involved to expand a crime or not created a major illegal opportunity to entrap someone in, that person may have gone on to never committing that crime in their lifetime. Instead, many victims of sentencing entrapment and manipulation will spend a lifetime in jail for the inflated offenses.

Legal counsel

Anyone who is facing charges where they feel law enforcement used entrapment or manipulation to increase their possible sentencing is encouraged to seek legal counsel. If someone has committed a crime, they should only have to face those crimes in court, not the top sentencing, inflated version of it.

Counterfeit Pain Pills More Dangerous Than Originals

Thousands of counterfeit pain pills confiscated during a massive drug bust turned out to be more dangerous that the original prescriptions the bogus pills were imitating.

Distribution of pain pills

Drug bust

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Just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, a man renting a home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah was arrested for what authorities are calling one of the largest drug busts in Utah’s history. The thousands of pills that 26 year old Aaron Michael Shamo was making and selling daily were being designed to look like popular pain pills such as Percocet and OxyContin, but instead contained an ingredient far more addictive and dangerous than oxycodone – Fentanyl. Detectives believe Shamo had sold and shipped the counterfeit pain pills throughout Utah as well as around the nation over the course of several months. The pain pills containing fentanyl could have reached millions of people over that span of time.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is referred to as prescription heroin since users feel many of the same effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” Due to this high potency, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and carries a greater risk of death. The CDC  stated that the “DEA describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic associated with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States.” By taking black market pain pills without knowing the actual ingredients, an increased number of individuals are likely to overdose. Those who are frequent users of pain pills may receive a high from the counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl. Others who have a lower tolerance to opioids may suffer respiratory distress and die from a single pill.

Utah’s prescription drug problem was bad enough

pain pillsUtah has a major prescription drug problem. According to the Utah Department of Health, “Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths ( . . .)” They also stated that “59% of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone”. With so many drug overdoses from oxycodone itself, how many more would die when counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl are taken instead? The sad reality of Utah’s prescription drug problem is most of the residents who abuse prescription drugs got their start with a legal prescription from a doctor. Unable to fight the opioid’s addictive quality, many of those individuals turn to street drugs or street pills. Instead of receiving the help and rehabilitation they need, they may be getting a deadly dose of fentanyl.

Help on the horizon?

For those who have family or friends who are suffering from addiction, there is hope when a loved one takes one dose to many. Not only did Utah pass the Good Samaritan Law, allowing persons to report an overdose of another without fearing their own prosecution, but there are overdose reversing drugs such as Narcan (nalaxone) that can be prescribed to someone who is close to an addict. Narcan can safely reverse an overdose to heroin or opioids and is responsible for saving over 150 lives so far in Utah alone. Unfortunately however, the overdose reversal drugs are no match for high potency fentanyl, such as the as counterfeit pain pills being distributed in high quantities by Aaron Shamo.

Narcan

Photo by: Peretz Partensky

According to the CDC, “Multiple doses of naloxone [Narcon] may be needed to treat a fentanyl overdose because of its high potency.” If the person administering Narcan to a fentanyl overdose patient or loved one is unaware of the need for additional doses to combat the fentanyl, the victim may still die.

Education and treatment

With so many Utah residents suffering from addiction and dependency on pain pills, it is vital that those afflicted receive the help they need through residential drug treatment facilities. These facilities should be accessible to all either by voluntarily checking themselves in or if facing charges such as possession of schedule II drugs, mandatory treatment should be issued instead of jail time (for where little to no rehabilitation is available). To discuss drug charges and options for treatment, contact a criminal defense attorney. For a list of drug rehabilitation centers throughout Utah, contact the Department of Health.