Over the Christmas and New Year period you may have read about the Harry Potter ecstasy tablets which created a flurry of media attention. The branding of ecstasy tablets has been an issue since the mid-1980s when manufacturers began to use certain designs to help identify particular pills. Users having no other way of knowing what pill they were taking needed to have some identifying mark, so that if they enjoyed the experience they could always go back and get more of the same thing.

Unfortunately, branding is no guarantee of quality or safety. Pill-making machines now exist in Australia and a brand that has developed a good reputation can be matched and distributed quickly.

There are four stages in the manufacture of an ecstasy tablet. First the ecstasy powder (MDMA) is manufactured. The powder is then mixed with the other substances which go into the tablet. Sometimes colours are added. Speckled effects are produced by mixing different colours of filler, giving the impression that the tablet contains several active ingredients. The mixture is then weighed out. The final stage is the manufacture of the actual tablets. All of the process can be done in one place, but it is usually split up and done in different locations.

Pill-making is done by specialists. The MDMA, which has been mixed with filler to increase the size and help bind it into a hard, smooth tablet, is forced by a piston against a die at high pressure. The die is engraved with a logo or name and can be changed to identify a brand.

When a brand has a good reputation, fake look-alikes are produced. The reputation is lost and new brands emerge -“ it is believed that this cycle takes three to six months. There have been exceptions over the years. For those who have been around long enough to remember, one of the first brands to remain on the market and survive dubious quality was the dove. Another brand that lasted for some time was the Mitsubishi. The Mitsubishi appeared in late 1998 and was the first ecstasy tablet for some time to contain a high percentage of MDMA (up to 140mg). As a result, a flood of fake Mitsubishis came onto the market. Even though the quality of these pills was far lower, with some not containing any MDMA at all, Mitsubishis continued to be in high demand for some time.

There is increasing evidence that more ecstasy tablets are being manufactured in Australia, although during 2000-2001 only two states reported the detection of an MDMA laboratory -“ WA and Queensland. This means one of two things -“ either MDMA powder is being imported into Australia and used in pill production, or something else, namely speed, is being used to make Australian pills. One thing is for sure -“ there is no way of knowing what you are taking. No matter what the branding of the tablet -“ there is simply no quality control.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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