It is difficult to believe but it is exactly nine years ago this week that the death of a Sydney schoolgirl first hit the headlines. Anna Wood died in October 1995 after taking an ecstasy tablet at an inner-city nightclub. Her death resulted in community outrage about the use of ecstasy and thrust her parents into the media spotlight. Over the years we have continued to see ecstasy-related deaths. It is a rare occurrence but it does happen. It was only a couple of weeks ago that another Sydney teenager died. We are still waiting for toxicology results but no matter what the findings her death highlights the fact that ecstasy can kill.

For the vast majority of people who use the drug this is not their reality. Most ecstasy users have a pleasurable effect, that’s why they continue to use the drug, and very few people have had direct contact with someone who has died after taking it. This has resulted in many people believing that ecstasy is harmless, or at least less harmful than a range of other drugs. This is particularly true of younger users and as a result they take greater risks.

Deaths do occur, but it is difficult to say exactly how many ecstasy-related deaths have occurred in Australia since Anna Wood died. There have been at least 20 reported in the press and I know of at least 10 others that have never been made it into the papers. When a death is reported users often look for other excuses for the incident -“ e.g. it couldn’t be ecstasy that caused it, it must have been other drugs or the person had a pre-existing condition or there was an adulterant in the pill. In many cases that is true -“ it is rare for a person to die due to ecstasy poisoning as MDMA (the substance people are actually after in a pill) is not a particularly toxic drug. However, poisonings have occurred and no matter how much people may want to believe that ecstasy did not cause the death the truth is if the person did not take the drug they would still be alive.

Ecstasy, like any drug, can attack weaknesses in the user. There have been cases where seemingly perfectly healthy young people use the drug and experience fits, strokes and heart attacks. Often these are people who have used the drug many times and have never had a bad experience. Put simply there seems to be no rhyme nor reason why these deaths occurred at that particular time. There are going to be many people who read this and dismiss this column because they want to believe that their drug of choice can’t cause severe problems. Just remember -“ you never know how a drug is going to affect you and if you are going to use ecstasy give it the respect it deserves. Never underestimate the risk associated with any drug.

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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