Lottery to fund ecstasy centre

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The Independent Online
THE National Lottery is to be asked for a grant of up to pounds 500,000 to fund Britain's first Ecstasy research centre.

Lifeline, the Manchester-based drug counselling service which first offered Ecstasy advice to young people, will make a bid to the National Lottery Charities Board in February with a view to funding the centre for three years.

Lifeline, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, sprang to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it began advising clubbers to drink water and keep cool after research showed that Ecstasy was causing deaths by overheating.

Its no-holds-barred messages, delivered in trendy leaflet form direct to clubbers, were initially seen by some as legitimising the taking of the drug, but its policy is now widely credited with having saved lives.

Alan Haughton, Lifeline's manager, said yesterday that a bid was being put together, although plans for the centre itself were in their early stages.

"The problem with Ecstasy is that we know no more now than we did five years ago - we don't know why it gives one person the best time he has ever had in his life, and it takes another person straight to Accident and Emergency," he said.

"There has been a lack of research into its effects and a lack of communication between the people who are engaged in what research there is. For example, after Leah Betts died the reports that she had drunk too much water came as a complete surprise to us and yet we were getting calls from concerned youngsters about it. That isn't good enough.

"We had to contact liver and kidney specialists, and we spoke to the Sports Council about isotonic drinks, which are now being recommended because of their sodium content. But no one rang us. There was no sharing of information, and that is what is needed."

Mr Haughton said the centre, to be based in Manchester, would not be involved in clinical research but would act as a clearing house for the sharing of such research and the distribution of advice. It also has a huge client base who, confidentially, could share their experiences with researchers.

The centre is likely to be welcomed by academics and doctors who sometimes appear to be working in isolation, although many would argue that clinical research should take priority.

Ecstasy (MDMA) tablets are sold for between pounds 8 and pounds 15 each in their hundreds of thousands each weekend. Users report a euphoric rush and subsequent feeling of well-being which has made it a favourite among clubbers.

It raises the body temperature, an effect exacerbated by continuous dancing, which can be combatted by drinking water and taking regular dance breaks. However, most of the 50 or so reported deaths since 1988 have been caused by overheating.

More recently, a number of deaths have been caused by people overcompensating and drinking too much water, effectively diluting much-needed sodium levels in the blood resulting in swelling of the brain or heart failure.