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.