Daily Mail tragically wrong on ecstasy deaths

Lots in the news yesterday about ecstasy, following Richard Brunstrom’s latest publicity drive.

The Daily Mail weighs in with its usual care and moderation. Rounding up the usual photogenic tragedies with comments from the grieving mothers, they put them under the headline: “Safer than aspirin, Mr Brunstrom? Tell that to the 50 families a year who lose a child to this insidious drug”.

The hypocrisy stinks – talk about taking advantage. So do the statistics.

50 deaths a year is accurate if you take the bare figures. But the bare figures conceal far more than they reveal.

Any fair examination of drug use facts shows that ecstasy is not what we should be worried about – not at all.

Home Office data (pdf) shows that between 1999 and 2004 there were 250 deaths from ecstasy – 50 deaths a year. But this figure includes all drug-induced deaths where the deceased had taken ecstasy – regardless of whether ecstasy was the main contributing factor. Describing their methodology, the National Statistics Agency say: “Some deaths may be counted in more than one category in these tables. For example, if heroin and cannabis are recorded on the death certificate, the death will be recorded once under heroin and once under cannabis”. By this ingenious rationale, cannabis accounts for around 15 deaths a year – no doubt we’ll be seeing that stat soon enough.

According to a 2003 study in the BMJ, most people who die from taking ecstasy are known drug users, normally males in their late 20s – not the innocent girl clubbers the Daily Mail likes to showcase. They have usually taken several different drugs (prescribed and non-prescribed) with ecstasy – and they have typically taken opiates – heroin, methadone, morphine (responsible for around 800 deaths a year, on average).

Opiates are the preserve of serious druggies, not occasional clubbers.Drugs fatalities are an issue for problem users, not recreational ones – although the line is never that clear cut. As I mentioned a while back, the real debate isn’t what we do about recreational use, with its slight risks – it’s what we do about serious addiction. This is what really ruins lives – and it is mainly linked to smack and crack, not ecstasy.

So don’t listen to the Daily Mail. They’re cheap scandalmongers; nothing more.

ps. by the measure of statistical integrity employed by the Mail, Brunstrom is actually correct when he claims that aspirin is more dangerous than ecstasy. The painkiller takes around 60 lives a year – almost all by suicide.


UPDATE (04/01/08): Martin Samuel in The Times – ecstasy is safe, with some nice stats to prove it. Trouble is, he does the standard pro-drugs thing and jumps from there straight to all-out legalisation. Sure, pills are all right (so far as we know – I’m waiting to see the effect on elderly brains); smack and crack are most definitely not.


7 Responses to Daily Mail tragically wrong on ecstasy deaths

  1. Meh says:

    Just to be upfront, I’m all for legalising ecstacy and numerous other drugs.

    For completness however, I feel compelled to note that the pretty young girls who die of ecstasy appear to be the equivalent of those who die from eating peanuts, or penicillin allergy.

    i.e. Some proportion of the population has a large negative (presumably allergic) reaction to ecstasy.

    Of course, if it were legal you could develop a test and alternatives to avoid such happenings…

  2. Adam says:

    The main problem with ecstacy is that you don’t really know whats in it, you have to trust the person you got it from and who they got it from soforth. an Ecstacy pill is made up of generally 0.1-0.4% MDMA (the pure chemical form of ecstacy) and speed. However there also needs to be some filler substance to make the pill big enough to be handled, this is the problem. Some people press pills with ProPlus added in (which can be dangerous considering there is already speed in the pill itself), sometimes its sugar or flour. But heres the real point…. sometimes its Rat Poison or Carpet Cleaner or some other horrible household chemical. This is a rarety though, but this is known as a bad batch.

    However this problem exsists with any illegal drug. Making is legalized opens up the doors to standards and regulation so in theory we could all go and buy ecstacy at our local boots counter and have a good time but with the piece of mind that we atleast know that we’re safer.

  3. gaff says:

    50 people died from eating peanuts last year.

  4. I noticed that this is not the first time at all that you mention this topic. Why have you chosen it again?

  5. Josh says:

    do you know if the stuff on sites like http://www.legal-ecstasy.com works?

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