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Trinity College defends ecstasy research

By Cormac O’Keeffe
TRINITY College Dublin yesterday defended research into ecstasy use among its students, stressing that one would be paid to take part.

A number of people expressed outrage on RTÉ radio yesterday saying students were being encouraged, and funded, to take ecstasy for the project.

The controversy followed revelations that advertisements had gone up in Trinity looking for ecstasy users to take part in a study.

The ad said the research, carried out the Department of Psychology, would offer participants e30 for two hours of tests.

Dr Hugh Garavan, who is leading the research team, yesterday said they were not in the business of trying to encourage drug use.

"The research group is involved in, primarily, to identity what might be the health risks, the mental health consequences of ecstasy use. Our goal here is the very opposite of encouraging drug use."

He said the aim of the research was to try and understand just what made ecstasy dangerous.

"We hope to identity participants who are declared regular ecstasy users and put them through a series of steps to measure cognitive and emotional functions. We also hope to measure their immune system functions."

He said they would not be offering participants €30 in cash. He said a decision had been made before media reports of the advertisement to give participants gift vouchers or book tokens.

He said the tokens were to compensate people for giving up two to three hours of their time.

He pointed out that the research had been passed by the psychology department’s Ethics Committee.

Callers to RTÉ radio’s Liveline included mothers who had lost children to ecstasy. They criticised the research for encouraging people to use a "killer drug."

Chemist Brendan Quinn, former president of the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, also criticised the project.

"It is a very dangerous drug, because you cannot predict how a person is going to react.

"Trinity here are actually endorsing an illegality. They are endorsing someone to take an illegal drug which could kill them."

Dr Garavan said at no stage were people being administered the drug and said all participants would receive information about the dangers of ecstasy as well as contact information for support and treatment groups.

The lack of research among recreational drug users, including ecstasy users, in Ireland has long been identified as a major gap in the country.

The Health Research Board, which funds doctorate programmes in the Department of Psychology, said it was awaiting an update on the research projects, including the ecstasy study, before it commented.

According to a national survey in 2002-2003, carried out by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, 3.8% of 15-64 year olds have tried ecstasy at some stage in their lives, rising to 7.1% among 15-34 year olds.

Some 500,000 ecstasy tablets were seized in Ireland last year and 1.1 million tablets in 2004.