We need to change the stigma around drug related deaths

It’s not always the user’s fault

The tragic death of Lauren Atkinson on Saturday morning is a harsh reminder of the importance of staying safe on a night out. Lauren died after a night at The Warehouse Project, having taken a teddy bear ecstasy tablet. Her death comes at a time in which drug related deaths are at the highest since records began in 1993.

Lauren’s death could have happened to anyone. The Loop, an organisation promoting safe drug use, tested teddybear pills in November and the results showed that they contain a 220mg dosage. The average dosage for an ecstasy pill is 80mg.

Comments on social media criticise Lauren for taking the drug in the first place. This is an attitude which must be changed if we’re going to get anywhere with safer usage.

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Lauren wasn’t a “druggy”, as the comment above puts it. Drug usage, especially at big events such as Warehouse Project, is not uncommon amongst people of a similar age. Yet there is a prevailing, backwards attitude to this situation and many others like it – that it is always the user’s fault, that they cannot handle it, they are a “druggy” or taking “dodgy illegal” substances, that they should know what they are getting themselves into.

This attitude will not change anything. People will still take drugs and, unfortunately, batches will go round that contain lethal levels of dosage. With a pill as strong as 220mg, anyone would be at risk of harm – no matter how ‘used to them’ the user is. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

Nor is the solution to enforce heavy security on events or festivals. If anything, this would increase the number of dealers inside the venue, selling potentially dodgy pills or drugs cut with harmful toxins. If you’re ever offered a pill in a club or at a festival from someone you’ve never met before, just say no. The risk is not worth it.

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Arcadia at Glastonbury Festival

In July 2016, The Secret Garden Party became the first ever festival that allows users to have their drugs tested to see if they are safe or not. In partnership with The Loop, it allowed festival goers to test the strength of what they were taking. This was a huge step forward in terms of creating a safer environment, and since then other events and organisations have followed suit. Newcastle University sells a purity tester kit for users to try at home. With support from Lancashire police, nightclubs in Preston are set to offer free drug testing on site.

This is a start. Many tests are based on purity, not strength, which is often the most lethal. We need more organisations like The Loop to ensure that people who take drugs can do so in a safer manner, and avoid tragic deaths. Big events such as The Warehouse Project need to take action to make their nights safer. Police support of the Preston scheme is proof that the authorities can be worked with in order to avoid drug related deaths.

Sensible drug policy – such as taking a pill in quarters, having a reliable source, keeping hydrated, waiting for the effects rather than taking more, and looking out for your friends cannot be understated. Yet when batches of pills as strong as 220mg are on the market, users need more protection. It is too easy for clubs and festivals to warn of the “dangers” of drugs – people will still end up taking them. Instead, they need to provide affirmative action to make sure that such tragic events are not repeated.

If you want more advice on drug usage, alcohol issues and sexual health, visit The Loop’s website.

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