HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Home Office Softens Line Against Dance Drugs
Pubdate: Fri, 08 Mar 2002
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd
Author: Richard Ford


THE Government acknowledged a softening in its drug policy yesterday by 
admitting that it would ignore the personal use of Ecstasy and other 
so-called dance drugs in nightclubs.

In a new set of Home Office guidelines the Government accepts that 
drug-taking is a part of youth culture that cannot be eradicated. It wants 
the public to recognise that drug misuse has to be fought on many fronts.

The guide underpins the Government's strategy of focusing on dealers and 
the impact of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine while developing ways 
of minimising the harm caused by dance club drugs. It gives clubs advice on 
how to prevent dealing and how to make the venues safer for clubbers using 
drugs, including the provision of "chill-out" rooms, water and better 

It also called for "amnesty boxes" where young people can deposit drugs 
they are carrying before they are searched. The guide also urges clubs to 
instal metal detectors to curb gun crime in big cities.

The guide, Safer Clubbing, says: "Controlled drug use has become a large 
part of youth culture and is, for many young people, an integral part of a 
night out."

It received a mixed response. Liam O'Hare, a club owner, said that if the 
Government could not stop drugs getting into prisons it was impossible to 
keep them out of clubs. Alan Spinks, whose daughter, Lorna, 18, died after 
taking two Ecstasy pills before visiting a nightclub in May last year, said 
that the guide would help to stop crises developing.

But Janet Betts, whose daughter Leah was killed by Ecstasy, said that she 
was alarmed at the new approach. The authorities should instead take firm 
action against club owners allowing dealing on their premises.

"Things like free running cold water, and a rest room and a first aider 
should be there anyway. The minute you put a fancy label on it, like 
chill-out room, that club is using that to advertise the fact that they 
tolerate drug use, and that's what I object to."

The guide says that free ice and frozen ice-pops should be provided by 
clubs to help clubbers to keep as cool as possible. Clubs are also urged to 
make more use of air conditioning after complaints by that some owners fail 
to switch it off to save money.

The provision of free water should be a condition of a licence being 
granted to clubs, the guide says. It was unacceptable that some clubs tried 
to maximise profits by turning off water supplies or supply only warm water 
to ensure that clubbers paid high prices for bottled water.

Releasing the guide, Bob Ainsworth, a junior Home Office Minister, admitted 
the reality of the scale of drug-taking. He said there was no point 
ignoring the drug culture surrounding the club scene.

"We have to recognise that some clubbers will continue to ignore the risks 
and carry on taking dangerous drugs," Mr Ainsworth said. "If we cannot stop 
them from taking drugs then we must be prepared to take steps to reduce the 
harm that they may cause themselves.We are not asking club owners to 
condone the use of drugs on their premises. What we're asking them to do is 
accept that we're not going to be successful in the entirety in keeping 
drugs out of the club scene."

The minister ruled out, however, allowing clubs to provide drug-testing 
facilities such as those that operate in Amsterdam, so that customers could 
check the purity of drugs. He insisted that Ecstasy was dangerous in itself 
and encouraging testing kits would be sending out the wrong message.

The urgent need to tackle the growth in gun crime linked to the club scene 
was highlighted by the Home Office and police at the launch of the guide in 
Central London. A Home Office source said that gun crime in or around clubs 
was now a a very serious issue.

The Home Office wants more clubs to install airport-style metal detectors, 
which cost UKP12,000 each, or to use hand-held scanners in an attempt to 
discover guns, knives, knuckle-dusters and other metal implements being 
smuggled into their premises. The source said that problem of guns in clubs 
was not confined to London, but also affected Bristol, Nottingham and 

Mike Fuller, Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, 
said: "It is our responsibility to reduce the risk of violence and drug 
taking. There is a culture of violence and intimidation that follows the 
supply of illegal devices.

"It is important that clubgoers are made aware of those risks. With proper 
security devices a lot of the violence that has been associated with some 
nightclubs can be reduced if not stopped altogether."

Drug experts, however, highlighted a contradiction in the Government's 
approach. While ministers were offering guidance on reducing the harm 
caused by drugs, they were also about to implement a new law that 
threatened club owners with jail if they permitted drug use on their 
premises. Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity Drugscope, said: 
"While we welcome the new harm reduction guidance there does seem to be a 
real contradiction in government policy. While offering guidance on 
reducing harm on one hand, on the other they are introducing legislation 
that threatens club owners with jail if they knowingly permit the use of 
drugs on their premises.

"With the threat of jail hanging over them, club owners may be dissuaded 
from introducing effective harm reduction measures and deaths may result."

Professor John Ramsey, head of the toxicology unit at St George's Hospital, 
Tooting, southwest London, welcomed the idea of amnesty boxes, which he 
said would allow an examination of the substances used in dance drugs, 
providing vital medical data.

Last year a pill containing the compound 4MTA, synthesised in the US as an 
antidepressant and only ever tested on five monkeys, had been found at one 
night spot. At least four people died.

Another compound, 2CT7, known as Blue Mystic, had been found in an amnesty 
drug. Both compounds have now been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
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