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Why So Many More People in the UK Are Dying from Ecstasy Overdoses

Fabric is temporarily shutting down after two people recently died after partying there, and these casualties are sadly nothing new.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB

Fabric. Photo via Wiki

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Fabric is closing its doors this weekend after two deaths at the London nightclub in the last nine weeks. A media representative for the Metropolitan Police confirmed to THUMP that emergency services were called to the venue at around 2:03 AM on Saturday June 25 when an 18-year-old man collapsed. He died in the hospital shortly after. Another 18-year-old male died on the morning of Saturday, August 6 after "becoming unwell" outside the venue. While no official cause of death has been announced by the authorities, Fabric indicated in a Facebook post that both deaths were drug-related. Pending an official police investigation, the club has decided to temporarily shut down.


This, of course, follows 2014, a year in which authorities called for a review of the venue's license after eight people collapsed there due to drug use over three years, with four of those people dying. Although the club managed to keep its license, they had to heighten security with ID scans, stricter searches, and drug-sniffing dogs. In 2015 they won an appeal against Islington Council, based on the huge expense of such measures.

Fabric isn't alone in these deaths. By September of 2015, MDMA-related deaths had reached an all-time high in the UK. A report by the Office of National Statistics showed that deaths had increased from eight in 2013 to 50 in 2014. In June this year, 16-year-old Sky Nicol died after taking five times the fatal level of MDMA. The same month, 22-year-old Stephanie Shevlin died after taking MDMA at The Box nightclub in Crewe. Later the same month, 17-year-old Emily Lyon died after taking MDMA at Red Bull Culture Clash at the O2. These tragic cases are just a few of many.

So why is this happening? MDMA use is up, but that shouldn't necessarily mean more people are dying or becoming seriously ill after taking it. Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University, told The Guardian in 2015 that the average strength of an MDMA pill—ecstasy—in 2014 was 100mg, much stronger than the average of 20-30mg in 2009. Strength and, sadly, casualties, have all risen in unison.


So-called "super pills" are also on the rise in Europe, with some reportedly containing an inconceivable 270-340 mg. According to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs in May, "Some recently produced batches of MDMA tablets contained discernible crystals, apparently as a strategy to increase user trust." As we recently reported, the aggressive increase in potency could be an attempt by European drug manufacturers to set their ecstasy apart from the often-heavily cut MDMA powder.

Some MDMA and pills. Photo: Michael Segalov

Frequently, with these recent deaths, the pills haven't even contained MDMA. In May, a 17-year-old girl died in Manchester after taking a "Mastercard" "ecstasy pill." However, the active component wasn't MDMA, but PMA, a substance that gives users none of the euphoria associated with MDMA—acting more as a kind of anti-depressant—and is highly toxic. It becomes especially dangerous when taken with other drugs, such as coke and actual MDMA.

Most dealers aren't going to tell clients what's in their pills, but there's much to be said about the lack of education and information available to potential users from other sources. The grieving parents of two sons from the Isle of Man who both died of ecstasy overdoses in November of 2014 have started campaigning for legalization and regulation of currently illegal drugs. "The only thing that would have saved my boys was to have a safer system so they knew what they were taking," said the father, Ray Lakeman. "We insist on the safety and control of alcohol, tobacco, even sugar—so why not with drugs?"

More seasoned drug takers might be better equipped to deal with the changes—knowing to always take a half or even a quarter, rather than a full pill, first—but first-time users, as many of these recent deaths have been, are essentially using guess work. This needs to be addressed.

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