teenager buying drug at club
teenager buying drug at club

More education needed around party drugs academic warns

A TOOWOOMBA biochemist has warned a rethink in drug education is needed if society wants to tackle the scourge of party drugs like MDMA.

The call comes as News Corp today finishes its series The Ripple Effect, looking at everything to do with party drugs this festival season.

University of Southern Queensland biochemistry lecturer Dr Mark Lynch said society wasn’t well enough educated yet to make informed decisions about drugs.

“We need to be better informed and better educated as a society so we can have a much more mature and reasonable debate about (drugs),” Dr Lynch said.

“It’s not up to a chemist or an individual to make a decision about what the attitude towards drugs is, whether we continue down the path of abolition or have a harm minimisation strategy, but currently we are not well enough educated to make those decisions as a society.”

Dr Lynch said that education also had to apply to legal prescription drugs.

“We need to appreciate that we’re not as a society particularly educated on any sort of drug, whether pharmaceutical or illegal.

“We have a bit of an attitude that prescription drugs are safe and good and illegal drugs are bad.

“We need to be better educated about what drugs do (both legal and illegal), what effects they have on body. How can they be used safely or should we be using them at all.”

“This is a problem that can be solved.”

Dr Lynch said it was still unknown what the long-term effects of MDMA were on humans, as there was little academic research into the issue.

He said it was a psychoactive drug that interfered with the “most complicated, most delicate, poorly understood entity in the universe: the human brain”.

“Pharmaceutical drugs have to go through drug administration approvals, be effective in clinical trials, safety testing, there are very high standards of production,” he said.

“That is then compared to something that is made potentially in a clandestine lab or backyard lab by people that aren’t qualified, aren’t trained, they’ve found recipes from sources that might not be all that credible.

“They’ll use reagents and things that are potentially dangerous like mercury, there is no quality control and that is really a massive risk.

“Users then don’t have the techniques or abilities to assess what they think the drugs are made of.”

Dr Lynch said for something to be MDMA the starting ingredient had to be bark from a Sassafras tree.

As the growth of trees can easily be controlled and monitored by law enforcement agencies, sometimes drug producers will pass off other psychoactive drugs as MDMA.

“There is a dangerous substitute called PMMA, or paramethoxymethamphetamine that has similar effects to MDMA but in a lot of ways is four times more toxic,” he said.

“There is a much greater delay from ingestion to the effects starting to happen.

“So some people say it’s not working, then take another one, then overdose.”

He said the use of effective drug education in reducing drug-use rates could clearly be seen in Portugal.

“Portugal had legalised marijuana from about the same time as the Netherlands, but took a different approach,” he said.

“They invested the taxes raised from marijuana sales into drug education, and they started that with people at a young age

“As a result of that Portuguese people are some of the best informed about drug safety, and even though marijuana is legal, the actual usage rate has gone done. As with better educated people, they’re going ‘I’m not really sure that’s what I want to do with my body’.

“Education has to start at a young age, there has to be investment into it. It’s not going to show any benefit for many years, but since the war on drugs was declared in the 1970s we haven’t really progressed from there.”

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