Pubdate: Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Emma Daly
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Raves)
Bookmark: (Hutchinson, Asa)


Spanish Pressure Groups Demand Action To Educate Clubbers On Drug Risks

The deaths of two young people after taking ecstasy at a mass rave in 
Malaga have set off a national debate about drugs, with calls for their 
complete legalisation and a campaign to educate young Spaniards about their 

In Spain it is not illegal to consume drugs of any kind in private, but 
people can be fined for consumption in public and trafficking carries a 
prison sentence. Drug use is slightly lower than in Britain.

But the government in Madrid has not adopted an information strategy like 
the 'safer clubbing' campaign launched this month in the UK. At the rave 
which produced last weekend's deaths, clubbers said taps were blocked, 
water was on sale at almost UKP2 a bottle and doors were locked to prevent 
people going outside to buy cheaper drink.

The young men who died, Ivan Garcia, 19, and Joaquin Barragan, 20, were 
among as many as 15,000 people crammed into a venue with a capacity of 
8,500. Two others were taken to hospital, while 20 others were treated by 
Red Cross workers at the scene.

A 24-year-old was in intensive care on Thursday after taking a tablet 
bought at the rave, while officials in Seville reported the death of a 
19-year-old girl two weeks ago again after taking ecstasy. A fourth person, 
from the Andaluz province of Jaen, was reported to have died earlier in the 
year from the drug.

Experts say that tablets sold at the rave seem to have contained a high 
dose of MDMA, suggesting that the victims died from an overdose rather than 
from contaminated tablets.

The danger of ecstasy is that users become overheated and dehydrated; 
Garcia's heart-rate rose to 205 beats per minute, three times the norm, 
before he died on Saturday night, while Barragan succumbed to kidney 
failure on Monday, after 40 hours in intensive care.

Over the past decade, Spain has logged at least 10 and possibly as many as 
25 deaths linked to ecstasy use. These latest casualties, though, 'have 
captured the attention of the public and created alarm over ecstasy', said 
Javier Rouvira of Energy Control, an organisation that analyses ecstasy 
tablets for clubbers.

He added: 'In Spain there is still no policy of showing clubs how to 
protect their clientele.' Locking the doors so that people could not buy 
cheaper alcohol outside was common practice.

He believed that contamination was no longer the main risk to clubbers: 
'The black market has cleaned up pills, but the doses still vary wildly,' 
he explained. His organisation has found that pills can contain anywhere 
from 14mg of ecstasy to 140mg, which means users can easily overdose.

'Until drugs are legalised, deaths by overdose will multiply. Until we have 
more information about this drug, the myths surrounding it will be 
maintained,' wrote the daily El Pais last week.

According to Javier Hernandez of the National Plan for Control of Drugs, 
'Spain's problems are mostly with alcohol and synthetic drugs - heroin use 
has fallen dramatically. Crack does not exist here, and cocaine use is stable.'

Meanwhile, the bereaved parents raged against the authorities. 'They killed 
him, they tore his insides out,' said Antonio Barragan, father of Joaquin. 
He and the Garcia family are considering legal action, but it is not clear 
who is responsible for the rave: the municipal authorities, which lent out 
the sports centre gratis to a radio programme on a channel owned by the 
Andalusia regional government, or the radio-show presenter, whose company 
apparently organised the party.

A case brought by the family of a girl who died last year in Cadiz after 
taking ecstasy was dismissed for lack of evidence against any specific person.

Rouvira says that ecstasy consumption has stayed stable in Spain over the 
past few years. He is also concerned by the less dramatic, non-fatal 
side-effects of the drug, pointing out that around 900 people visited 
casualty units in Catalonia last year because of psychiatric problems 
associated with ecstasy, mostly anxiety attacks.

The head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Asa Hutchinson, told 
delegates at an international anti-drug conference in Bolivia last week 
that use of ecstasy was growing because of a misconception among the young 
that the drug is harmless.

'I wonder how many long-term cocaine addictions were created in the 1970s 
for lack of correct information,' he said. 'And I wonder how many problems 
we will have with ecstasy and other drugs consumed in discotheques and 
clubs for the same reason.'
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