Always keen to publish a good scary drug story, the CourierMail pounced on a report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) into the increased use of ecstasy(MDMA). With the report disclosing drug related deaths, the frenzied journalist knew she had a scorcher on her hands. So out it came, chock full of statistics about how dangerous MDMA is. The headline screamed - Ecstasy Tablets Kills More Australians.
Ecstasy Tablets Kills More Australians
By Lisa Mayoh
MORE than 100 young Australians have died after taking ecstasy in the eight years to 2008, The Sunday Mail can reveal.
A ground-breaking report into the use of the drug, whose scientific name is MDMA, shows it claimed 82 Australian lives over five years from 2000 – and fatalities are increasing.
Conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the study into MDMA-related deaths in Australia is the biggest and most comprehensive analysis to date, and has prompted calls for further research into its prevalence.
Additional figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show another 23 people died from 2006 to 2008, which is considered to be an "under-representation" due to many cases still under investigation.
Of those, 10 deaths were reported in 2006, seven in 2007 and six in 2008, with 65 per cent of victims aged between 20-29 and more than 70 per cent male.
More than 80 per cent of the deaths were unintentional and 15 of the 23 victims took other drugs along with the MDMA, including cannabis or alcohol.
In the earlier cases examined by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, 91 per cent of the deaths were directly caused by drug toxicity and MDMA was the sole drug involved in a quarter of cases. It also contributed to a number of drownings, cardiovascular conditions and car accidents.
Funded by the federal Department of Health and Ageing, the report found the median age of fatalities was 26, with the youngest victim aged 17 and the oldest being 58.
"While reports of MDMA-related death are far less common than those of opioid, amphetamine and cocaine, the number of MDMA-related deaths appears to be increasing," the study said.
A closer look though revealed some interesting abnormalities.
So, MDMA alone wasn’t responsible for 100 deaths over the last 8 years to 2008 but about 25 or so. That’s 3 deaths per year which pales into insignificance when compared to alcohol that kills about 3,300 per year. The mortality rate for MDMA exclusively is less than Asprin, Panadol, falling out of bed, falling off a ladder, disease of the middle ear, drowning in the bath tub, riding a bike or horse etc. With millions of pills taken each month, there is bound to be some who are allergic to or have a bad reaction to MDMA so the annual rate of about 3 deaths is very low for a drug this popular. Added to this is the unknown dose that was taken. They could all be overdoses from taking several pills at once.
... and MDMA was the sole drug involved in a quarter of cases...
... and 15 of the 23 victims took other drugs along with the MDMA, ...
And something else was amiss. Why does the NDARC report only represent the years 2000 - 2005? Where did the “Additional figures obtained by The Sunday Mail” come from? Where is the original NDARC report and what is the title?
Trying to find the ground-breaking report was no easy feat without a title. It must be somewhere because the article hinted that there was imminent danger with a warning that MDMA had taken 82 Australian lives over five years from 2000 – and fatalities are increasing. Where was this important report that prompted an article in the CourierMail? Where do I look? Searching NDARC and the Federal Department of Health and Ageing websites for something that had no name was not getting me anywhere fast and Google was bringing back millions of results. Then I finally found a link to the report at the NDARC website. At last!
I received this error:
HTTP Web Server: Lotus Notes Exception - Entry not found in index
After a while, I eventually found the report at a science journal but it required a paid membership or subscription to read the full text. No wonder the CourierMail didn’t name the report: Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-related fatalities in Australia: Demographics, circumstances, toxicology and major organ pathology. [link]
Luckily, an abstract was available which gave me some insight into the report. My conclusion ... why did the CourierMail publish an article in January 2010 when the report came out in July 2009? This wasn’t a recent report at all and was submitted for peer review 12 months ago. To top it off, it only covered 2000-2005. WTF?
I’m really interested to know why the author, Lisa Mayoh and the CourierMail went to so much trouble to produce only 5 sentences about this obscure report? The fact is that the CourierMail article relied on additional information to provide the bulk of the statistics. So the question still remains ... why was this article printed in January 2010 when the ground-breaking report is a year old relating to data from 2000 - 2005? Was it a quiet news day or just another attempt by the CourierMail drudge up a scary drug story?
Funnily enough, I happened to find the link via a search on the same page as other NDARC articles from Jan Copeland and Paul Dillion, both from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC). In case you don’t know, NCPIC is part of NDARC and also a prohibitionist mouthpiece for the government trying to maintain the public scare campaign on cannabis. If you read the abstract, you will see the similarities.
On a side issue, whilst searching for the elusive report, I did come across other studies that were much more important and news worthy than a report giving statistics 5-10 years ago. I suppose, scary drug stories are the forte of Murdoch’s trashy media enterprise so there’s not much chance of a rational, positive article being published about the report below?
Is Ecstasy A Drug Of Dependence?
This paper examines the evidence for an MDMA or “ecstasy” dependence syndrome. Animal evidence suggests that MDMA may be a less potent reinforcer than other drugs, but that it does have dependence potential. This suggests that (a) ecstasy dependence might be less likely than dependence upon other drugs; and (b) factors related to the behavioural and psychological aspects of reward and dependence may make a relatively greater contribution for ecstasy than for other drugs, where physically centred (and better understood) features of dependence may be more salient. Human evidence supports this proposition. Some people report problems with their use, but the literature suggests that physical features play a more limited role than psychological ones. Tolerance is apparent, and withdrawal is self-reported, but it is unclear whether these reports distinguish sub-acute effects of ecstasy intoxication from symptoms reflective of neuroadaptive processes underlying a “true” withdrawal syndrome. Studies examining the structure of dependence upon ecstasy suggest it may be different from drugs such as alcohol, methamphetamine and opioids. Consistent with studies of hallucinogens, a two-factor structure has been identified with factors suggestive of “compulsive use” and “escalating use”. Regardless of the nature of any dependence syndrome, however, there is evidence to suggest that a minority of ecstasy users become concerned about their use and seek treatment. Further controlled studies are required to investigate this phenomenon.
Is Ecstasy A Drug Of Dependence?
Louisa Degenhardt - National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Raimondo Bruno - School of Psychology, University of Tasmania
Libby Topp - Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice
Available online 15 October 2009.
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