Ecstasy enters the front room

Drug-taking: As prices plummet, pill-popping has become an everyday activity in the comfort of home

The price of ecstasy has dropped to as little as pounds 5 a tablet, which is helping create a new breed of habitual drug takers who have shunned night clubs and get high at home instead.

The slump in the cost of the drug has been caused by dealers flooding the market with high quality tablets from Europe, particularly Holland. Drug agencies have noticed that because of the easy availability and low cost of ecstasy, an increasing number of people appear to be taking tablets during the week rather than reserving them for the weekend.

Teenagers as young as 13 and 14 who cannot afford or are unable to get into night clubs, are among the new group of "couch potato" home users. Older takers of ecstasy - people in their 30s and 40s, tired of the club scene - are also popping pills with friends in their front room.

Ecstasy prices have been dropping ever since it was first introduced into the rave dance scene in Britain in the late 1980s.

From an average street price of pounds 20 a tablet in 1991 it has fallen to pounds 15 in 1992/93, pounds 12 in 1994, pounds 10 in 1995, and pounds 8 this year, according to the Manchester based drugs agency Lifeline. When bought in batches of 10, the tablets can cost as little as pounds 5 each, although usually they cost a few pounds more.

Mike Linnell, of drug charity Lifeline, said: "People are no longer waiting for the weekends, they are taking an E before they settle down to Brookside.

"The ritual of taking them at raves has gone now. People don't see them as anything special anymore.

"If you're paying as little as pounds 5 for a tablet it's far cheaper than alcohol to get out of your mind."

He added: "There's more of it about - there's a big market - and dealers have such an easy time they can afford to drop the prices."

Drug users have reported that there is more pure ecstasy - MDMA - available now. Previously the tablets were often badly made or were mixed with other drugs and had little or a bad effect on the drug taker.

Recent research by Lifeline and a music magazine found that it was not unusual for people to be taking 100 to 200 tablets a year, or four every week.

Between 500,000 and 1 million people are believed to take ecstasy every week, although there are no official figures available. Most tablets are still taken in clubs and at raves. There has been growing concern about the potential side effects of the drug, particularly since the death last November of Leah Betts, who collapsed after taking ecstasy at her 18th birthday party.

Carlo Pace, a drug worker at the Newham Drugs Advice Project, in east London, confirmed that in the past few months the price of ecstasy had dropped to as little as pounds 7,although tablets cost about double that in clubs.

"There's definitely more around - probably from Holland and Belgium - and there's many youngsters taking it every day, although the weekends are still the most popular."

He added that there were now more dealers who had well organised networks of distribution.

Release, the national drug and legal advice helpline, regularly gets calls from ecstasy users taking tablets at home. A small number of calls have been from people who are taking the drug every day.

Claire Robbins, a drugs adviser at Release, said: "We also get calls from 14- and 15-year-olds who take ecstasy at home because they can't afford to go out, and from people in their 40s who are fed up with the club scene."

Kerry, 36, an ecstasy user, said: "Taking them in clubs is not so popular, it's partly a snobbish thing - everyone, even people in Essex, takes them now. I'm also getting older and have a child so I can't be bothered to go to clubs. Plus, I'm broke."

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