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[Contents][Appendix 1]
[Reference 32][Reference 34]

E for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders
Appendix 1: Reference Section

33 The Use of Ecstasy and Dance Drugs at Rave Parties and Clubs: Some Problems and Solutions, by Dr. Russell Newcombe, paper presented at a symposium on Ecstasy, Leeds, November 1992
Newcombe says the use of E, 'acid' and 'speed' has spread dramatically - and into most social groups - over the last 5 years, largely because of their popularity as dance drugs on the rave scene, the dominant subculture of the 1990s. About 2 million people are estimated to have taken dance drugs at raves including at least 750,000 who have taken MDMA. The aim is to partake in an altered state of group consciousness by dancing for long periods on E. The risks involved in using E are exacerbated at raves by the nature of the drug dealing that takes place, e.g. imposter drugs being sold, the setting, which can cause heatstroke, the response of the authorities, where clubs are closed leading to more illegal raves, and mass media coverage (implying drug scares promote drug use).

Reports of deaths and psychological disturbances related to Ecstasy use are becoming more common, although there is little evidence that taking Ecstasy is any more risky than alternative leisure activities.

Dr. Newcombe argues that the authorities should take a pragmatic policy towards the rave scene, which focuses on reducing the threat to public order and public health. At the local level, this implies setting up multi-agency groups to develop a model of good practice for rave events.

He says that four matters require urgent attention:

1. The development of an agreed policy towards rave nightclubs and parties

2. The regulation of security staff

3. The reduction of organised drug supply and

4. The development of healthcare services for ravers, particularly risk-reduction information and on-site outreach work.

The paper gives comparative figures - drawn from a 1992 Home Office bulletin - of the number of seizures and convictions involving dance drugs in the UK in 1981 and in 1991.

number of seizures quantity of seizures number of convictions 1981
1991 1981 1991 1981 1991 

amphetamine 1,117 6,821 18kg 421kg 1,074 3,532

LSD 384 1,636 n/a 170d 345 1,200

MDMA 0 1,735 0 365d 0 559
(d -- thousand doses)

Newcombe estimates that over 100,000 young adults attend raves every weekend. A national survey of 24,000 secondary school children in 1991 found record levels of drug use. Among 15-16 year-olds, 10% had used cannabis; 7% LSD; 7% amphetamine and 4% MDMA (Balding 1992).48 Drug use is higher with older groups.

Dr. Newcombe suggests that the rave can be seen as a religious ceremony with the mixing desk as the altar and the DJs as priests. The DJs mix records in response to the dancers to build up to a high. This peak orgasmic 'trance dance' atmosphere is called 'kicking', 'mental' or 'happening'.

The raver's main aim is to dance and other activities such as conversation and sexual behaviour are correspondingly reduced. Raving can be seen as worshipping the god of altered consciousness. There is a virtual absence of aggressive or disorderly behaviour at raves, partly due to very low consumption of alcohol and partly due to drug use.

House music has developed into various styles: Techno music is favoured by those who like maximum chemical stimulation. Ambient music is more peaceful but just as powerful.

Relatively few harmful effects have been established as resulting from MDMA use, compared to other popular drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, prescribed drugs, Paracetamol and solvents, even taking into account the wider use of these. Statistically, the risk of death is no greater than that involved in other leisure pursuits.

Drug dealing at raves

Security staff cannot legally strip-search customers, so dealers can easily smuggle drugs in their underwear. Women are sometimes used to carry drugs in as they are less likely to be carefully searched because most security staff are men. A woman can carry several hundred Es in her vagina. There are two types of dealing organisations: 'mutual societies' which are groups who distribute to friends without making a profit; and organised gangs. The latter employ specialists: "smugglers" who get the drugs into the rave; "carriers" who hold drugs and money; "snarlers" who are the salesmen; "lookouts" who watch out for police; and "minders" who provide physical protection. Sometimes security staff are involved by offering protection to gangs for a percentage ("taxing"). This protection includes giving warnings and cutting out competition. It is gangs who are most likely to sell bad quality drugs, Dr. Newcombe says, and he suggests that the police should focus on these and ignore the mutual societies.

Safety and security problems

Minor problems such as bruised feet and fainting result from overcrowding; bad management creates problems such as locked fire exits, slippery floors, broken glass and poor ventilation.

However, illegal raves have a far greater potential for disaster due to: poor fire access, factors such as the absence of lighting apart from strobes, lethal substances being sold as drugs. Crushing due to panic from an emergency, police raid or a fire could cause a major disaster in an illegal rave.

The response of police and local authorities

Because the authorities close down clubs where drugs are used, customers are driven to other venues which are less experienced in handling ravers or to illegal events. This puts ravers at a higher risk. Police raids on large events could trigger a Hillsborough type disaster, Newcombe maintains.

The financial cost of a trial of 12 people who held an illegal rave in Warrington in 1990 was over #250,000. The average cost of policing a large illegal rave is #10-20,000.

Suggestions for new policies

Dr. Newcombe's main suggestion is to develop guidelines for authorities. "It would be unrealistic to expect any strategy to reduce substantially the use of drugs at raves," he says. Authorities should not close clubs on the grounds of drug use; instead they should cooperate with the management to reduce problems. Security staff should be regulated (this is done by some authorities). Police should focus their attention on drug-dealing gangs. Information should be provided on the content of the latest drug seizures.

[Contents][Appendix 1]
[Reference 32][Reference 34]
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