Youth Culture: Dangers that lurk in the shadows of clubland

Every weekend, millions of young people take illegal drugs and dance in dark rooms filled with loud music. But there are many dangers lurking in the shadows. Next month a meeting of club owners, doctors and police will discuss how to make it a safe pastime. Paul McCann reports.
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"PVC Bottom" may sound like something attached to a kitchen implement but it is in fact one of the more minor ailments that can affect clubbers.

"PVC Bottom" is when girls wear a pair of PVC shorts to nightclubs without underwear and dance for six or seven hours. Accident and emergency departments report dozens of cases of severe chafing, almost like burns, caused by the friction of PVC on flesh.

It is just one of a number of unique health concerns raised by the massive popularity of clubbing that will be discussed at an upcoming conference trying to make clubs healthier.

Other strange club-related injuries include "clubber's finger" which is where dancers try to dislodge what they think is a cigarette butt stuck to the bottom of their shoe only to discover it is a piece of broken glass, which causes tiny lacerations to fingertips. Cigarette burns in the face are also a worry - these are due to people waving their arms around as they dance with a lit cigarette - as are torn calf muscles or tendons from hours of dancing.

The concern of the conference, Health of the Clubbing Nation, will be to try to bring smaller nightclubs up to scratch with the famous big-name clubs which have their own medical teams and security.

"We see around 1,000 admissions a year from nightclubs," said Dr Christopher Luke, a consultant at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital's accident and emergency department. "Only one or two of them are from the biggest club of all, Cream, which has its own medical team and well-trained staff. Naming no names there are other, smaller clubs, that send us dozens of problems every weekend. Clubbing now accounts for a very large proportion of what the young population does. It is our concern that all clubs they go to should be made safe."

The conference will also recommend the provision of "chill out" areas to allow dancers to cool down and the provision of free water to rehydrate clubbers who have taken ecstasy.

It will be addressed by George Howarth, the Home Office minister, drug counsellors, policemen and doctors, but the sponsors of the conference, the so-called "superclub" Cream in Liverpool, Liverpool University and the North West NHS also want clubbers to go.

One of the subjects up for debate will be whether clubbers should be able to get ecstasy tested, as they can in Amsterdam, to make sure they are not buying dangerous cocktails.

Already up and running are leafleting campaigns at some clubs to let people know what chemicals ecstasy can contain.

A concern for the ground-breaking HIT drug-counselling team in Liverpool is that the Bill by the MP Barry Legg to close down any clubs where drugs have been taken is not an impediment to getting a health message across to club owners and club-goers.

Despite the media focus on ecstasy the conference will also hear that 80 per cent of admissions to hospitals from clubs are caused by drinking and violence compared with just 10 per cent due to ecstasy problems such as panic attacks.

Dr Luke also reflects the experience of many clubbers that ecstasy can make a safer environment: "In clubs where ecstasy exists the level of violence is appreciably lower. Where drink is the main cultural vehicle, violence is endemic," he said.

The conference will cover the entire clubbing from getting in to sexual relations so there is a representative from the National Association of Licensed Door Supervisors and one from the Brook Advisory Centres to talk about sexual health.

l The Health of the Clubbing Nation, Cream nightclub, Liverpool, 31 October

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