Shutting clubs 'risks more drugs deaths': Calls to close down rave venue after third suspected ecstasy fatality bring warning against forcing 'return to dangerous unlicensed events'

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The Independent Online
HEALTH professionals yesterday warned that shutting rave venues could increase the risk of drugs-related casualties. The warning came after calls from MPs and councillors for the closure of Hanger 13, a licensed club in Ayr, following the third death at the venue this year.

With 'dance drug' abuse growing rapidly in Scotland, closing clubs could force a return to dangerous unlicensed events, drugs counsellors said. They urged better education for rave-goers and club owners, 'to put an end to deaths which can easily be prevented'.

Strathclyde Police yesterday continued to question dancers who were at the former seafront ballroom on Saturday night in an effort to uncover the source of the drug ecstasy, which Andrew Stoddart, 20, of Lanark, is believed to have taken before he died early on Sunday morning.

The investigation was intensified last night after a post-mortem examination confirmed his death was drugs-related. But police have yet to establish what type of drug was involved in Mr Stoddart's death, and are waiting for more tests and toxicology reports.

A major effort was under way to establish the source of the drugs which killed him, and any other drugs circulating at the night-spot. As the rave scene has expanded north of the border in recent years, ecstasy use has risen sharply. Among recreational drugs, 'E' is now second only to cannabis in popularity with the under-30s. A survey to be published later this month by the Scottish dance magazine M8 indicates that it has been taken by more than 90 per cent of regular rave-goers.

Teenagers as young as 15 say that illegal stimulants such as ecstasy and speed are an essential element of rave culture, and are even tolerated by some promoters.

One 18-year-old, who asked not to be named, said: 'You go for the drugs and to dance; the two go together . . . In some cases, the owners turn a blind eye to the dealers - and the bouncers who let them in - because they know that if there is no 'gear', no one will come. It's as simple as that.'

Health officials agree that attitudes to drug use have changed. Graham Wilkinshaw, a liaison officer at the Scottish Drugs Forum, a Glasgow-based agency, said: 'Young people's attitudes to illegal drugs have altered beyond recognition in the past 10 years. For many young people in Scotland today, spending money on drugs like ecstasy is a way of life - as much as part of growing up as buying clothes or shoes.

'To have a good night you spend your pounds 20 on one tablet of E, instead of buying five or six pints of beer. You get your chemical high, which lasts between eight and twelve hours, and you dance all night.

'People who take drugs like ecstasy don't even see themselves as drug users. In fact, they are scornful of people like heroin users.'

Despite the high levels of ecstasy use in Scotland, the number of deaths linked to the drug is relatively low. Fewer than 10 people are thought to have died from it in the past two years, compared with more than 100 heroin-related deaths.

Observers of dance fashions say it is 'fanciful' to imagine that closing clubs would stamp out drug use. Christine Ridha, manager of Hanger 13, said stewards at the club 'did their utmost' to prevent ravers bringing in drugs, but total control was impossible since they could take tablets before arriving. Health officials say the challenge is to educate teenagers and promoters about the dangers associated with the synthetic stimulants. David Faulds, editor of M8 magazine, said: 'The demand is there and so is the supply . . . What we, health officials and others have to do is to ensure that young people are aware of the risks. Ecstasy raises your body temperature and some people are mixing it with alcohol which creates a grave risk of dehydration. Young people should be made aware of the dangers of making these drug 'cocktails'.

'At the same time, stewards and bouncers should be trained to recognise the distress symptoms and to treat those who get into difficulties. At the moment, many are simply there to make sure there is no violence.'

Not everyone, however, agrees that keeping clubs open is desirable. Joanne Dick, 16, the sister of Andrew Dick, 19, who died after attending Hanger 13 in April, yesterday vowed to step up her campaign to force the venue to shut.

The local licensing board meets this week to discuss the latest death at the club.

(Photographs omitted)

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