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Our Attitude Toward Drugs Is Killing Us: Part 1

As part of an ongoing mini-series, we’ve called upon an individual to dive into the evolution of Australia’s drug use, from its trade and perception to enforcement and penalties. Ryan* has a wealth of anecdotal experience on the topic, both first and second hand. Despite an admirable length of sobriety, he continues to research the topic with an undying interest.

Police were quick to label ‘a bad batch of MDMA’ as the culprit for a trio of deaths in Melbourne in January this year. The tragedy was the latest in an ongoing, sadly episodic occurrence. As Australians, we are some of the biggest drug users in the world, consuming more drugs, more often, and at higher rates. Sadly, the society in which we live has failed to adapt to such a reality. Symptomatic of this is our stigma toward drugs, and this stigma is the cause of our blissfully ignorant approach to drugs.

That’s why when the lives of three young Melbournites were taken and the culprit was marked as ‘high purity MDMA’, the general populace readily consumed the information. Though certain people were left scratching their heads. Despite being neurotoxic at even moderate doses, the LD50 – the amount that must be consumed in order for >50% of test subjects to receive a lethal dose – is relatively high with respect to MDMA. It’s largely dependent on the body temperature of an individual, though in assorted rodents, the figure ranges from around 100-300 mg/k. With this data, rough parallels have been drawn to suggest a human’s LD50 is around the 7.4 gram mark.

Smart people buy their drugs on the internet. That’s not a suggestion that you should do so, but rather a harm reduction tip for people who decide drug use is something they wish to partake in. For those of you who do go online, you’ll know that for clandestine manufacturing, the maximum purity of MDMA sits around 87% mark (of course, a lab can hit right up toward 99%, but that stuff isn’t making it to the streets).

The recommended dosage of MDMA is somewhere between 75mg and 125mg, with the majority of pressed pills being sold as 100mg units, while bags most often come in 0.5 and 1 gram (10 servings) allotments. Given this information, it could be roughly calculated that the three deceased Australians would have consumed over $6000.00 AUD worth of MDMA – had they been smart in their transaction – in order to reach a point even close to the LD50. Unlikely? Yes.

Of course, three teens didn’t round up $18,000 and rave their way through it in a single night. The police were unclear, or the press got it wrong, perhaps both. The proof surfaced when recently leaked reports made clear that Victorian police did test the drugs and neglected to make public their findings, which could potentially save the lives of more young victims.

In an internal memo, it clearly states, “”the drug actually contains a cocktail of illicit substances, including 4-Fluoroamphetamine (4-FA) and 25C-NBOMe.” For those unaware, the former of those drugs is an amphetamine-like narcotic, while the latter is a hallucinogenic, one that’s extremely potent and can cause deaths at doses as low as 4mg.

For anyone who spends their time researching information on narcotics, not a sliver of information above will surprise you. Though one clear problem is evident, and that’s the way our authorities, and subsequently the media, treat information on narcotics. Rather than pushing every bit of data outward as quickly as possible, misleading murmurs circulate, perpetuating false beliefs and rendering us unevolved.

“Test kits!” some scream. Great, test kits. I’m all for test kits. Though had these pills run the gauntlet of a standardised reagent test (something every user should have in their home), the amount of MDMA present was enough to indicate the drug was, in fact, MDMA. Dr Monica Barratt (National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre) sent a batch of the same drug to Barcelona, yielding the same results. Further cementing the likelihood of this odd combination, Will Tregoning, the executive director of Unharm, told VICE that the addition of NBOMe to MDMA was a phenomenon unique to Australia. It has allegedly been a strange cultural phenomenon since 2012.

VICE probed Victorian police on the matter and received a response from an unnamed spokesperson. “This internal memo was sent to police members on 27 January following several instances of highly concerning drug reactions, including a number of overdoses in Chapel Street last month… As the internal memo indicates, synthetic drugs can take a variety of forms. If we issue a warning for one particular lot, that does not mean the drug isn’t also doing the rounds in other forms and so it is inappropriate to provide a specific warning.”

In many ways, the response is nonsensical. Until illicit drugs are regulated and controlled, the argument surrounding drug use should always be that the greater the education, the greater we can deal with the issue. Members of the public should be made known of all details the moment police do, and with access to equipment like an Alpha Bruker and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS), state police forces can extract large amounts of information in roughly 45-60 minutes, all of which should be made public.

While this is anecdotal, 90% of people I discuss MDMA with have little to no idea how to treat the drug. Worse yet, the public litmus test for ‘good’ MDMA contradicts what the drug should provide the user, meaning ‘amazing’ and ‘best MDMA ever’ are usually associated with drugs that combine small amounts of MDMA with larger amounts of racemic amphetamine. Long story short? Don’t redose – and if you must, 1/2 your original dose and do it within 75 minutes of your initial dose – don’t take MDMA more than once every three months, and if you’re buying MDMA, taking it at 7pm and still wired at 5am, you’re not buying MDMA.

Safe travels.
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*Name changed for anonymity purposes.

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