Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jul 2017
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2017 Orlando Sentinel
Author: Ariana Eunjung Cha



Scientists, public health experts and volunteers working with them
have started to show up at music festivals, concerts, raves and other
public gatherings where illicit drugs are frequently used. Equipped
with special chemical testing kits, they help attendees test pills and
powder for purity in real time so people can make better informed
decisions about whether to take them.

The practice - more common in Europe than in the United States - is
controversial, and the debate has been similar to the early days of
needle-exchange programs in the 1980s. Proponents argue harm
reduction. They say people are more likely to reject taking drugs to
get high if the substances do not contain what they think they do,
which reduces the risk of overdose and other harmful effects. Critics
say such programs implicitly encourage the use of illegal drugs.

There hasn't been a lot of hard data about pill testing until this
month when a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology
found some surprising things about one of the most popular street
drugs being used today.

Called Molly, the drug is a form of Ecstasy or MDMA
(3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine) and sought after for its ability to
create euphoria and heightened sensations in users. It typically sells
for $10-$20 a dose. As of 2014, a government survey estimated, 7
percent of the U.S. population had tried Ecstasy at least once.
Molly's appeal is that it's supposed to be purer and safer.

So why then has there been an increase in hospital emergency room
visits and deaths related to the drugs since Molly's introduction in
the 2000s?

Researchers looked at data collected by volunteers for the nonprofit
DanceSafe, who tested samples of pills or powder at gatherings
throughout the United States between July 2010 and July 2015. The
testers would scrape a small amount of a pill or use part of the
inside of a capsule.

The first thing the volunteers found was that MDMA was present in only
60 percent of the 529 ostensible Molly samples collected. The others
contained a mix of all sorts of other ingredients. Most of the
chemicals couldn't be identified through the tests at the sites. But
13 samples contained methamphetamine, a strong nervous system drug.
And three samples even had a very potent form of amphetamine known as
PMA, which is more likely than many other drugs to kill with one dose.

The researchers concluded that Molly is no safer than

The study also contained some important findings from a public policy
perspective. After attendees at these events got the test results for
their pills or powder, they were asked whether they still intended to
ingest them. With individuals whose drugs did contain MDMA, 46 percent
said they would go ahead and use them. That compared with 26 percent
of people who were told their drugs did not contain MDMA.

Such testing programs are catching on in more countries. For the first
time in Britain, the more than 200,000 attendees at last year's
outdoor music festival Kendal Calling had access to a tent where their
pills could be tested, according to NPR. And Australia may conduct a
trial at the Spilt Milk music dance event in December.

The "government wants to carefully go through all the details of the
arrangements before allowing pill testing to take place," Alex Wodak,
president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, and his
colleagues wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian. "Most public
health advocates will welcome this decision, although inevitably some
will argue that seven months of preparation is unnecessary. We are
relieved that, at last, pill testing is finally moving from debate to
policy to practical on-the-ground interventions."

Matthew W. Johnson, one of the authors of the recent U.S. testing
study and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, acknowledged in a
statement that there is ongoing debate over the legality and value of
pill-testing services but that they deserve a closer look.

"People would be safest not taking any street drugs at all, but if
free, no-fault testing can reduce deaths and other catastrophic
consequences, it may be a service worth having," Johnson said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt