Pubdate: Sun, 07 Oct 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Author: Giles Tremlett
Bookmark: (Raves)


Police Back Ecstasy Quality Control At Raves

In a square in the north-eastern Spanish town of Olot, Barcelona-based disc 
jockey Micky Molino is on a stage, mixing his own-brand techno-house while 
hundreds of people dance. Micky's show may be organised by the town 
council, but this is as close as you get to a full-blown rave in a quiet 
country town best known for its snails.

Not that the young people of Olot are far behind their big city cousins in 
their party habits. There are plenty of drugs here: cocaine, hash and 
ecstasy are all readily available, fuelling the dance fever.

In fact, Olot is way ahead of most places in Europe when it comes to drugs 
savvy. For here, a stand has been set up offering an unusual service.

The stand belongs to Energy Control, a small non-governmental organisation 
that has come equipped with chemicals to test the purity of ecstasy 
tablets. The Olot ravers are being offered the chance to check what is in 
their pill before they pop it. Police know Energy Control is there - but 
have agreed to stay away.

An Energy Control worker, Nuria Calzada, 24, scrapes powder from one tablet 
into a solution and watches it turn purplish-black.

'That means its got MDMA in it,' she explained afterwards. 'We can't tell 
how much, but there is no sign that it is mixed with amphetamines or 
similar stuff.' One happy punter drifts off, knowing he has not been ripped 
off and that, within limits, what he is about to take is relatively safe. 
MDMA, he has been told, is the active ingredient of ecstasy.

Energy Control cannot tell him how much MDMA there is in the tablet, but if 
he nibbles it slowly and is conscious of the effects, he can control the 
amount he is taking. His pill does not carry any PMA or 4-MTA - substances 
that have proved fatal to ecstasy users.

Energy Control is at the vanguard of the pill-testing movement - one 
sweeping across Europe.

The movement is beginning to receive official funding in Spain and other 
countries which believe that, where prohibition obviously does not work, it 
is best to help people take their drugs safely.

Now the European Union's own drug advisory unit, the Lisbon-based European 
Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), has added its 
voice of approval. Pill-testing, a report published last week said, not 
only helped save lives but also allowed drug advice organisations to 
educate users. If people cannot be stopped, they can at least be told how 
to make ecstasy consumption safer, by drinking lots of water, for example, 
to prevent the dehydration blamed for some deaths.

'Such groups work, not by "moralising" or being judgmental, but by giving 
instant analyses of a pill's chemical content and other useful information, 
enabling users to weigh up the risks themselves,' the EMCDDA concluded.

The report, produced by Austria's CheckIt group, revealed that pill-testing 
was already on offer at house events and clubs in Germany, France, Austria, 
Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Authorities became interested in pill-testing after ecstasy tablets 
appeared containing 4-MTA or PMA. Because 4-MTA acts more slowly than 
ecstasy, impatient users were taking two or three pills. When they kicked 
in after three hours, the effects could be lethal. PMA is a potent 
amphetamine-like drug often mixed with a more powerful version of MDMA 
known as PMMA. Such drugs are jointly blamed for recent deaths.

Gregor Burkhart, EMCDDA project manager, denied that pill-testing 
encouraged ecstasy use and said it allowed advice groups to warn about 
excess. 'Most people think they are just recreational users. They consider 
themselves well-informed and if you are not just as well-informed you lose 
credibility,' he said. 'But there are risks if you combine with alcohol, if 
you experiment too much, if you take it long-term ... just talking about 
this can have a positive impact.'
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager