The Big Question: How dangerous is Ecstasy, and is there a case to review its legal status?
Why are we asking this now?
Because the outspoken chief constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, has reignited the debate over the legalisation of drugs by saying that Ecstasy, used mainly in clubs and at raves, is "far safer than aspirin". He also said that the legalisation of all drugs was inevitable and only a decade away. His comments drew criticism from MPs, anti-drugs pressure groups and relatives of people whose deaths have been related to the use of Ecstasy. Some have called on him to resign.
Others involved in the drugs debate found his comments frustrating. Martin Barnes, chief executive of the independent drug information and expertise centre DrugScope, said: "On an issue as complex and emotive as drug policy, it's a shame that unhelpful soundbites from people in authority cause a publicity storm, rather than opening up a calm, informed debate."
What exactly did he say about Ecstasy?
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "There's a lot of scaremongering and rumour-mongering around Ecstasy in particular. It isn't borne out by the evidence."
He added: "Ecstasy is a remarkably safe substance it's far safer than aspirin. If you look at the Government's own research into deaths you'll find that Ecstasy, by comparison to many other substances legal and illegal it is comparably a safe substance."
It is not the first time Mr Brunstrom has hit the headlines, as he is a long-time campaigner for the legalisation of drugs. He said that the evidence was "very clear" that prohibition was not and could not work, adding that "an enforcement-led strategy is making things worse, not better".
Who else supports legalisation?
Mr Brunstrom admitted that he was "certainly out of step" with most other senior police officers, but said that there were others among the upper ranks of the police service who agreed with his support for an end to prohibition. There are also senior politicians in all three major political parties who are privately sympathetic to the legalisation of drugs, but the issue is too sensitive with the electorate for them to call for any change in the drugs laws publicly.
The lobby group Transform is in support of the legalisation of Ecstasy, along with all other drugs. It says it would save the country billions of pounds on drug-related crime, make drugs safer through proper regulation, and stop money from being diverted into the hands of criminal gangs.
What is Ecstasy?
Ecstasy is usually taken in the form of a pill, but is increasingly taken in other forms such as a powder or crystals. It gives users a "rush" of energy, which is why it is mainly used by clubbers. It also makes sounds and colours more intense, and often produces intense feelings of love and friendship between those who take it. Its active ingredient is Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), although the amount of MDMA in each pill varies greatly. Users describe it as being like a combination of taking amphetamines and a weak kind of hallucinogen, such as LSD.
So is Ecstasy really dangerous?
The exact number of deaths brought about by Ecstasy use is hard to pin down, as it depends how the figure is measured. According to the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, compiled from looking at coroners' reports from around the UK, there were 42 deaths related to Ecstasy-type drugs in 2006. Most of those involved the taking of Ecstasy in combination with other drugs, though. Only 16 deaths came after the use of an Ecstasy-type drug alone. And even within that figure, very few deaths have ever been caused by direct poisoning from the drug. Most come from other related effects, most commonly overheating and dehydrating in a hot club. Some cases such as the high-profile death of Leah Betts in 1995 involved consuming fatal quantities of fluid after taking Ecstasy. Supporters of legalisation argue that such deaths could be avoided with health warnings that would accompany proper regulation.
Though attention has been focused on Ecstasy-related deaths, it may also cause non-fatal damage to the brain, though the evidence is so far inconclusive. The drug's effect on the heart means that anyone with a heart condition, blood-pressure problems, epilepsy or asthma can have dangerous reactions to it. And it does create some unpleasant but less serious symptoms, such as nausea, a dry mouth and sweating.
How many people use it?
Ecstasy is mainly used by clubbers to keep them dancing all night. Its use was strongest at the height of the rave culture in the early 1990s, but has since fallen. The most up-to-date government figures, compiled in 2004, found that 4.8 per cent of 10 to 25-year-olds surveyed had taken Ecstasy, while the figure for people between 18 and 25 was nine per cent.
What does the law say about Ecstasy?
Ecstasy is currently ranked as a Class A drug, along with the likes of cocaine and heroin. It is therefore illegal to have, give away or sell. Possession of Ecstasy carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Supplying the drug can result in an unlimited fine and even life imprisonment.
Is legalisation really on the cards?
One group that thinks so is Transform. Its director, Danny Kushlick, said: "The reason that people call Ecstasy "pills" is because we have no idea what goes into them. If prohibition was brought to an end, we could see the introduction of proper ingredients lists, health warnings and quality control." He added: "Legalisation could be 10 years away. But what we need first is for the supporters of such a policy to speak out. They are just not prepared to do that at the moment."
In reality, though, there is very little political will for a total legalisation of drugs. Since coming to power, Gordon Brown has hinted at strengthening current drug laws, rather than repealing them. Perhaps more likely is the reclassification of Ecstasy under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Government's commitment to "evidence-based" drug laws suggests that the laws should be updated periodically. Back in 2003, a group of MPs dabbled with the idea of downgrading Ecstasy from a Class A drug to a Class B drug, alongside other amphetamines such as speed. But the idea was dismissed by ministers.
The possibility of a reclassification of Ecstasy has re-emerged recently. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which advises the government on drug policy, will review the evidence regarding the effects of Ecstasy, and will then make a recommendation over the classification of the drug some time this year.
Should ecstasy be legalised by the Government?
* In reality, very few deaths are caused by ecstasy, and legalising it would allow proper quality control
* Money would stop being channelled to the criminal gangs which are involved in supplying drugs across Britain
* The policy of enforcement and criminalising users has shown little sign of working
* Ecstasy could be responsible for causing brain damage. If we don't know all the facts, we should err on the side of caution
* People do die each year after taking ecstasy, though the degree to which the drug is directly responsible is disputed
* There is very little demand for the legalisation of ecstasy among the public or politicians. Reclassification is more realistic.
Drugs are distributed and sold in Malaysia by the very people who are supposed to protect and safeguard us. That's right the police.
There are many reported cases of police officers who earn between RM1,000 to RM20,000 per month died leaving behind RM5 million to RM40 millions in cash (kept in safe boxes) and assets. If police officers were such good businessmen, why the heck need they continue to work? This has been going on since 1984.
Drugs that are confiscated are sold by the police openly direct to the Chinese Middle Men in return they are re-sold to the streets.
Don"t believe, just wait for ex-IGP Musa Hasan and those in upper rank etc........to die.
So, can one blame those policemen down the rank for asking RM50 for an allege wrongdoing on your part?
Despite punitive anti-drug laws, the number of drug-related crimes has shot up in the country.
DRUGS were declared the nation's number one enemy 28 years ago by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
Today, that label remains unchanged if the recent spate of busts by anti-narcotics agencies is an indication of the trend in drugs use.
Two weeks ago, Selangor Customs crippled an international drug trafficking syndicate with the seizure of RM37.8mil worth of unprocessed heroin at Northport in Port Klang. The raiding party found 278 bags of heroin weighing 214.5kg shipped along with 560 cement bags from Karachi in Pakistan.
In March, police confiscated 81.4kg of syabu (methamphetamine) worth RM16.1mil from a container at Westport.
Last month, police seized Eramin-5 drugs and paraphernalia from a shoplot used as a production laboratory in an industrial area in Petaling Jaya. A local and a Taiwanese national believed to be a chemist were detained.
With all these developments, MCA Public Complaints Bureau chairman Datuk Michael Chong believes the incidence of drug abuse is increasing, cutting across race, gender, social background and even age.
He says that of late, parents have even pleaded with him to get their drug-abusing children arrested.
“These parents say their children steal money from them to support their drugs habit. With these kinds of cases, I don't see any improvement in the situation,” he says.
An undercover narcotics officer with the police says more youngsters are turning to drugs these days.
“I have come across students as young as 14 being involved in drugs,” says the officer.
Malaysia has ambitious plans to be free of drugs by 2015, but many are sceptical over whether this can be realised.
“This drugs issue did not crop up overnight. Maybe it can be reduced but it would be a miracle to be completely drug-free in another four years,” Chong opines.
The statistics on drug abuse speaks for itself. Deputy Home Minister Datuk Abu Seman Yusop last month said the number of drugs-related crimes has shot up by 25.58% based on the latest police statistics despite punitive anti-drug laws,
Last year, 157,756 people were detained under various anti-narcotics laws compared with 125,620 people detained in 2009. A total of 42,133 people have been arrested up to March this year.
The National Anti-Narcotics Agency (AADK), meanwhile, identified 23,642 new drug addicts last year compared with 15,763 new addicts in 2009.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar says the drugs problem has always been a concern but adds that the recent spate of arrests and raids did not necessarily mean the problem was worsening.
“We have been stepping up action,” he says, adding that the police are working closely with their counterparts and intelligence from other countries.
Whatever it is, the drugs scourge has caused many problems health, social and economic, among others. Many crimes, especially petty thefts, are regularly linked with drug junkies desperately looking for money for a quick fix.
Malaysia itself is not a narcotics-producing country. Most of the drugs are smuggled into the country, believed to be mainly from the Golden Crescent (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) and Golden Triangle (Laos-Thailand-Myanmar).
The narcotics officer says most of the drugs coming into the country are smuggled by Iranians and West Africans, although smugglers of other nationalities were also involved.
Because of its strategic location, Malaysia is used as a transit point for drugs trafficking into places such Europe, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia.
This is in spite of Malaysia's strict anti-drugs trafficking laws which carry the mandatory death sentence.
Increasing threat of designer drugs
The commonly abused drugs in Malaysia can be classified into two plant-based drugs and synthetic drugs.
Plant-based drugs include heroin, marijuana and opium, which still attract the highest number of users.
However, Dr B. Vicknasingam of the Centre for Drugs Research of Universiti Sains Malaysia believes the threat of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS) deserves more attention these days.
He says ATS is often the first introduction to drugs use among youths, often in fun party settings.
“The worrying trend with ATS is that we are seeing more mental health problems related to its use. This makes treatment more challenging.
“Since ATS is a stimulant drug, there may also be an increase in high risk sexual behavior vis-a-vis HIV/AIDS,” he cautions.
Synthethic drugs which are growing in popularity include syabu or ice and Eramin-5 pills. These drugs are believed to originate from China, Taiwan and Japan.
Another designer drugs, ketamine, is increasingly brought in from India.
While a gram of syabu can cost anything from RM300 to RM500, Eramin-5 can fetch between RM100 and RM150 for a strip of 10 pills.
Ecstasy, a mood-altering drug which is usually manufactured in Europe, has a market value of RM35 to RM70 per tablet.
Khalid says some of these designer drugs are manufactured here, although he believes it is on a much smaller scale. He explains that most of the imported raw materials come in legally and it is only when the different materials are mixed that they are potent.
“For example, ephedrine, an ingredient used to make syabu, is used in flu or cough medication,” explains Khalid.
In 2004, the police in an operation involving Malaysian and Chinese authorities smashed a major regional supply line of amphetamine pills following raids on a processing factory in Semenyih.
Two years later, police busted a sophisticated syabu-producing laboratory in Lunas, Kedah. Syabu and Ecstasy pills worth RM14mil were seized from the factory.
It looks like they are doing more of the same now.