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
- 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
- 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.
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by Nicholas Saunders