On December 3, 2014, Sarah and Ray Lakeman received the message that no parent should receive: Their two children Jacques (20 years old) and Torin (18 years old) were found dead in a hotel room in the UK. The two young men had traveled to Manchester to watch a soccer game and Torin, a physics student, bought MDMA (ecstasy) online. He had no experience with the substance or information about the dose he could take. When their bodies were found, it was found that they had ingested an amount five to six times greater than a potentially fatal dose.
Amid the turmoil of emotions such a tragedy brings for a family, Sarah and Ray decided to launch a campaign to introduce public risk reduction measures in the UK and to fight for drug regulation. “This has to stop, but it won’t stop just by telling young people not to do it. If that were possible, my children would be alive – as would dozens of other people, ”said Ray. The struggle of these parents is to provide honest, non-moralistic, and objective scientific information about drugs that will enable young people to make informed and informed decisions about reducing the potential risk of your consumption. Today MDMA-related deaths are mostly due to consumption of excessive amounts of the substance, mostly a lack of information.
The UK is a clear example of the consequences of the ban. The introduction of high dose MDMA tablets in recent years coupled with conservative drug policies has resulted in overdose deaths related to this drug. The number of deaths per year has increased from around 50 in 2015 to 90 in 2019. However, given certain precautions, MDMA is a relatively safe substance. Safe enough for the US Food and Drugs Administration to consider breakthrough MDMA therapy for conditions like post-traumatic stress. This shows us that it is possible to create conditions in which MDMA use is a low risk and that deaths are more related to circumstances (high doses, very hot environments, mixtures with other drugs) than to intrinsic toxicity of related substance. Today we know the importance of choosing an airy environment, hydration or avoiding more than 125 mg MDMA in the same night or in the same consumption session. Kosmicare, of which we are an organization, has worked to promote honest and science-based discussions about drugs.
With co-financing from the Lisbon City Council and SICAD (Ministry of Health), we offer a substance analysis (drug control) service that allows people to analyze their drugs confidentially and free of charge and, for example, to know how much MDMA is in a tablet. After a year of work in Lisbon, we found that the average dose of the tablets sold and analyzed as MDMA is very close to 200 mg, a dose well above the recommended limit. We found several lozenges over 250 mg, twice as much as recommended. This information is very important because, according to the survey of Portuguese teenagers carried out by SICAD on National Defense Day, it is known that 7% of Portuguese teenagers surveyed by the age of 18 have already used amphetamine and / or methamphetamine containing MDMA. It is a sizable amount from someone’s children, brothers, and nephews.
Not only Portugal recognizes the importance of this type of service: in 2017 there were 35 worldwide and 23 in European countries. Substance analysis services are considered good health practice by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The ban on drugs drives people who use them underground and increases their use by many risks. This is more evident in countries where the laws are more conservative, such as the UK, where people are searched on the doorstep of clubs or festivals so they can take whatever they have with them before they enter and potentiate overdoses. often fatal. With the ban regime in place (including Portugal), anyone who chooses to use drugs must assume not only the potential toxic risks of using the substances, but also the risks of making them illegal. And, as you can see, these could be more deadly than the drugs themselves.
But does it work to analyze drugs and inform people?
What works and what doesn’t when it comes to health information is still a challenge. It is now more obvious to all of us that we are going through this pandemic and we are seeing authorities changing communication strategy frequently. However, we have consistently assessed the impact of Kosmicare’s work, that is, whether the information affects the people who participate in our service. Together with the Faculty of Psychology and Education of the University of Porto, we study the behavior of people who use our service after receiving the results of the analyzes. The results of the service we offer at festivals show that more than 90% of people report after receiving a result that they did not expect (e.g. a substance that is different from what they expected) that they have not consumed. Nonetheless, a majority of people, even those who have the result they consider “expected”, say that they will take steps to reduce the risk of consumption (e.g., take a much lower dose when taking high levels of the tablet a contains certain substance).
We also know that the majority of the people who use our services are people with higher education who are studying or working. And that according to the study carried out by Kosmicare on the effects of childbirth due to Covid-19 (March to May 2020), most people said they had reduced their use of psychostimulants, which they usually did with friends at parties. This is a fact that emerges from other studies already done in Portugal, which suggest that the majority of drug use is unproblematic, that is, regulated by people themselves who think about risks and benefits based on a number of factors their consumption before deciding whether to consume or not. One of these factors is the information available. If the information is weak, it also increases the risk that the decision will be significantly increased.
“All other aspects of our life are determined by trying to make things as safe as possible. The only thing we don’t do that with is drugs, ”says Ray Lakeman in an interview with The Guardian. After 50 years of drug bans, drug consumption has not decreased, the number of drug users increases every year, and the ban only makes consumption even more dangerous. The war on drugs has been lost.
We are not only part of the Kosmicare team, but also fathers and mothers. The world we want for our children when they grow up is a place where they don’t overdose when they first try a substance. We want you to have access to reliable information about the real risks of drug use. And if they decide to use it anyway, they may know that the substance they are consuming is what they really expect, and not a more toxic and potentially deadly adulterant.