Every weekend, across Australia, thousands of young people attend nightclubs, dance parties and a range of other entertainment venues. For many of them this also means taking party drugs -“ a range of substances that are used to enhance the party environment. For many years there was little interest in these drugs, from both the general public and the research community. Party drug users tended to use recreationally, and as a result rarely experienced severe problems, attended treatment centres or came into contact with law enforcement. There was little research money available to investigate trends as they were perceived to be used by relatively few and there did not appear to be a great deal of harm associated with their use.
All of this changed in October 1995 when a 15-year-old Sydney schoolgirl died after taking an ecstasy tablet. The death of Anna Wood suddenly brought unwanted attention to a then-underground culture that had been around for many years. Since that highly publicised death the number of Australians who have experimented with ecstasy has trebled and other newer drugs such as ketamine and GHB have also become increasingly popular among certain sections of the dance community.
This week the media have been covering the death of Newcastle father, Sam Ramoundos. The inquest into his death was finally aborted late last week so the matter could be investigated in greater detail. The Glebe Coroner’s Court was told that his wife, Alison Ramoundos, must have had a seed of concern that Sam’s life was in danger as he lay unconscious, shaking and vomiting, yet still chose not to call an ambulance. There is now the possibility that she could be charged with manslaughter. This could have huge implications for the wider party drug community, where it is now common practice for people not to call ambulances, instead taking people home and waiting for them to hopefully sleep it off.
A death attributed to any drug usually captures the headlines, but when it is a drug such as ecstasy or GHB the media goes into a frenzy. It is easy to see why -“ it is usually a young person who has died, it is linked to youth culture and the whole sex and drugs and rock’n’roll mentality swings into play. It also brings a great deal of unwanted attention to the dance community and can have far-reaching consequences, e.g. clubs closing down, increased law enforcement and legislative change.
There is also now great pressure from policymakers for the term party drugs to be phased out by researchers and workers in the alcohol-and-other-drugs field, as there is a belief that it glamorises the use of these substances. It is hoped this will then trickle down to the media and they will stop using the term. This provides us with one of the greatest challenges we have yet had to face. How else are we to classify this diverse group of drugs: an entactogen (ecstasy), a stimulant (crystal), a dissociative anaesthetic (ketamine), and a depressant (GHB)? Why are they used if not to party?
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?