European drug experts report a “dramatic increase” in the potency of high-strength ecstasy tablets, including so-called ‘super pills’.
The 2016 annual report of the European drugs agency said that Ireland had the fourth highest quantity of ecstasy (MDMA) seized in the EU in 2014.
The 465,083 tablets seized was greater than that of the UK (423,000) and just behind that of Germany (486,852).
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Emcdda) estimated he total amount of MDMA seized in the EU doubled from 2.4 million tablets in 2009 to around 5.5m in 2014.
The report said there was a “resurgence” in MDMA, characterised by a diversity of products – tablets, powders and crystals. It said nine out of 12 countries that provided recent updates reported higher use of ecstasy and t had spread out from the traditional dance scene to a wider range of young people and more mainstream nightlife.
Emcdda scientific director Paul Griffiths said this revival has been driven by a “dramatic increase” in the potency of the drugs.
He said there was a huge growth in the shapes and colours of tablets, with even “glow in the dark” pills, all part of a more sophisticated marketing strategy by producers.
The agency has issued a number of public health alerts since 2014 regarding high-potency tablets. It said the strength of MDMA during the 1990s and 2000s ranged somewhere between 50-80mg, but , at present, was closer to 125mg per tablet.
“There are also ‘super pills’ found on the market in some countries with a reported range of 270-340mg,” said the report.
“There are reports of large variations in the dosage in similar looking tablets.” Emcdda director Alexis Goosdeel said: “The revival of MDMA brings with it the need to rethink existing prevention and harm-reduction responses to target and support a new population of users who may be using high-dose products, without fully understanding the risks involved.”
He said the report documented “intoxications and even deaths” and added: “This is particularly worrying since MDMA is moving into more mainstream social settings and is increasingly available via online markets.”
The higher potency of MDMA-based tablets was cited by garda sources as being a possible factor in the death of 18-year-old Dubliner Ana Hick in May 2015.
The Emcdda report, using data supplied by the Irish Health Research Board, said there were 14 deaths where MDMA was present in Ireland in 2014. This compares to 12 deaths in 2013 and 2012, 11 in 2011 and less than five in both 2009 and 2010.
As well as high-strength MDMA, the report also highlights cases of adulteration with other substances including PMMA, describing this chemical as “particularly hazardous”.
The report said the Dutch police documented a sharp increase in the number of new tablet designs, from 50 new designs in 2012 to a peak of 174 in 2014. It said MDMA was rarely reported as a reason for entering treatment.
The report raised concerns that higher dose MDMA products was becoming “normalised”.
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