BBC News

Ecstasy 'too child-friendly' as deaths rise to record levels

By Shiona McCallum
Newsbeat reporter

image copyrightTicTac

Ecstasy deaths of under 29s in England and Wales are at the highest since records began in 1993.

"Pills are too child-friendly," warns Janine Milburn whose teenage daughter Georgia Jones died after taking MDMA.

The 18-year-old was one of the 92 people who died from ecstasy or MDMA in 2018, in comparison to 56 people in 2017.

Of the 92 people, 61 of them were under 29-years-old and 27 of them were under 20-years-old.

It comes as overall drug related deaths figures are up.

image copyrightJanine Milburn

Georgia died after taking two ecstasy pills at Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth in May 2018.

Since her death, her sister Charlotte and her mum Janine, are calling for drugs testing at festivals.

"It would mean Georgia didn't die for nothing," Charlotte tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Janine says she believes Georgia's life could have been saved if she'd known what was in the drugs she was taking. She also says she's not shocked at today's numbers and thinks more practical information in schools would help.

"People need truthful education about drug taking, like what to do when things go wrong."

Charity The Loop, which tests drugs for potency and content, has tried testing at festivals across the UK.

Trevor Shine from drug testing body TicTac has been looking at tablets to identify their ingredients for more than 20 years.

"What has changed with ecstasy over the years is that some of the tablets now contain quite high levels of MDMA.

"Not all of them do and it is very inconsistent. So the problem is that variance has changed. It also affects people differently. So two people could take the same substance and have very different reactions.

"You also can't look at a tablet and determine if it is a high purity or a slow or fast releasing tablet, there are no physical differences in them."

Ecstasy and festivals link

Professor Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, tells Newsbeat: "There's no doubt in my mind that drugs and music go well together - and ecstasy in particular.

"If there are more festivals on the go and more people going to them, the likelihood of using drugs like ecstasy also increases. As use increases, so do the risks."

The statistics show deaths were up in 2018, but there are still warnings circulating for festivals this summer. There are fears that the increase could happen again. This summer has seen lots of warnings around the potency and purity of certain drugs.

"People have been caught out by the strength of some pills that have made it into festivals and music venues - some have contained more than 200mg of the chemical MDMA, the psychoactive compound.

"That's something that would catch out an experienced user as well as a naive one, so no one is protected or safe when those doses of ecstasy pills are around."

image copyrightGetty Images

Dr James Nicholls, CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, says: "These deaths are an avoidable tragedy - and each one represents a brother, sister, parent or friend who has left loved ones behind.

"After six years of record deaths, the Government must act, with a clear focus on keeping people alive.

"Ultimately, we need to get drugs under control - and that means regulating them properly, rather than leaving the market in the hands of criminal gangs. Only then will we put an end to the health crisis unfolding around us."

But the government says its message is "no illegal drug taking is safe".

If you need help or information about ecstasy or MDMA then you can visit the BBC advice pages.

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Related Topics

  • Office for National Statistics
  • Drug use
  • Drug legalisation

More on this story

  • Mutiny Festival deaths: 'I warned my sister about taking drugs'