Independent Comment: Change the law to save lives

Ecstasy is the biggest recreational drug to have hit Britain since cannabis. Tonight thousands of young people will take it to heighten their senses and help them dance for hours. With its high energy, party image, the drug has unique appeal.

Yet the death of Daniel Ashton on Thursday night, apparently after taking ecstasy, highlights the risks. There have been more than 50 ecstasy-related deaths. This may not seem a large number beside figures for tobacco and alcohol-related fatalities, but many of these ecstasy deaths could and should have been avoided.

Most have been the result of dehydration. If more clubs provided plentiful, free water, the risk would be reduced. They should also warn dancers to take frequent breaks: the best clubs have "chill-out" rooms.

But a big problem lies with official attitudes. By bracketing ecstasy with heroin and cocaine as a class "A" drug, the authorities have placed it as far beyond legality as possible. Suppliers face jail. This makes it impossible to regulate the conditions in which the drug is manufactured, sold or used. It also means that thousands of young people will this weekend again be enjoying themselves as outlaws.

Faced with this latest tragedy, some will argue for tough police action. If the police raided any rave, they would certainly find guilty dancers. But that would simply drive ecstasy use further underground. If we genuinely wish to protect young people from unscrupulous dealers and the adulterated cocktails they sell we need a different strategy. We must find a sensible way to draw ecstasy back within the law.

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