Sound advice to stop dance of death

New measures will target clubland in attempt to check rising toll of drug casualties among young people
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The Independent Online
Clubs and drugs - the two have been inextricably linked since the 1980s, when ecstasy lit the fuse for an explosion of dance music and rave culture. According to government figures, around 1 million tablets of ecstasy, known as the "hug drug" are sold in Britain each week. But there have been casualties: 100 ecstasy-related deaths in Britain over the past eight years. Yesterday, new guidelines were brought in to try to cut the number of young people killed by the drug.

The new measures, drawn up by the London Drug Policy Forum (LDPF), an organisation funded by the Corporation of London and the Home Office, urges London's 33 licensing authorities to work more closely with nightclub owners and rave promoters to minimise the risks associated with the drug.

Under the title Dance Till Dawn Safely, the campaign will target the capital's 200 weekly dance events. The Forum hopes that every London borough will have the scheme in operation by this time next year and that local authorities across the country will follow in the capital's footsteps within time.

The guidelines stress greater emphasis on reducing overcrowding and overheating in clubs, increasing the availability of drinking water and ensuring that all clubs have rest areas where clubbers can cool down. The Code of Good Practice also includes the firm recommendation that all councils should set up registration schemes for door supervisors, making sure they are trained in recognising drug-related problems and have no criminal record.

At yesterday's launch in south-east London, Peter Rigby, the LDPF's chairman, said that the forum was aware of the difficulty in preventing young people from taking drugs and that the over-riding purpose of the code was to keep people safe, raise awareness and stop more young people from dying:

"The best way to keep safe is to not to take any drugs at all," he said.

"However, we live in the real world and at the moment we know that young people will take drugs. It is vital that we do all in our power to keep them safe."

Mr Rigby said that many club-owners believe that their clubs are not involved in the rave culture and claim that measures to reduce the risk of drug taking are unnecessary.

"We would counter this argument by pointing out the impossibility of making any club 100 per cent drug free," he said. "Even if dealing is eradicated, club-goers may still take drugs before they arrive and may still experience drug-related problems."

The general consensus about the contents of yesterday's launch was that the new measures were merely reiterating old concerns. However, the introduction of a door-supervisory scheme was welcomed by council bosses and the police as a way of combating the growing problem of disreputable bouncers who deal in drugs

The LDPF's policy adviser, Alyson Morley, said that the forum wanted to see bouncers from reputable firms without criminal records who are properly trained in first aid and in recognising drug-related problems. She said that metal detectors should be installed to prevent weapons being bought in to clubs and that doormen should alert management of clubbers caught with drugs, logging the offence in an incident book which should be kept for a year. The news was welcomed by Superintendent Martin Jauch, of the Metropolitan Police's clubs and vice squad, who said that rogue bouncers who deal in drugs was a growing problem for the force: "We welcome the introduction of the measures," he said. "We have a very acute door supervisors scheme in operation at the present in the West End and stopping this sort of crime is crucial."

Many leading London club-owners yesterday welcomed the LDPF's proposals as a way of producing a consistent standard among the capital's clubs which can only help to raise the tarnished reputation of the rave scene. One leading nightclub owner, Andy Martin, who co-owns the up-and-coming Linford Studios club in south-west London said the proposals will pull some of the less reputable clubs in to line.

"The proposals are basically reiterating a debate that has been raging for four years now, but anything that ensures the safety of the clientele should be welcomed and implemented," he said.

"Many of the reputable clubs in the city already have these policies in operation but I'm sure that many do not."

Linford Studios is a classic example of a club that runs a slick safety and security policy. Opened earlier this year, it has a resident nurse on site and operates a stringent security operation which includes plain-clothes bouncers roaming the club spotting potential drug dealers.

"It is the only option in my opinion," Mr Martin said. "And there is no doubt that it makes people feel safer."

Agonies of ecstasy: The spread of a killer

t According to government figures, 800,000 young people in the UK have tried ecstasy.

t The Home Office estimates that 10 per cent of 14 to 19-year-olds, have experimented with ecstasy and nearly half have been offered the drug.

t Initially enjoyed by yuppies, the drug emerged in Britain in 1982 from New York.

t It was originally an appetite-suppressant for German troops, patented in 1914.

t Chemical recipes for making ecstasy are now circulated on the Internet.