The war on drugs claims another victim, Martha Fernback

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, not a single such fatality has been recorded

Share

Johnboy Davidson doesn’t seem like a likely leader in the fight to reduce British drug deaths. For a start, he’s called ‘“Johnboy”.

He’s a theatre technician with no professional expertise. And he lives in Australia. Despite these demographically implausible distinctions, Johnboy Davidson is doing something that the British Government refuses to do. He is the founder of a website called pillreports.com, a global database where volunteers try to identify particular kinds of tablet and give drug users due warning that their chosen high could be dangerous.

It is obviously hard to know exactly how many lives have been saved, but one thing is certain: at the moment, the British Government wouldn’t dream of putting money into anything similar. And so it is left to people like Johnboy to step in. Unfortunately, the void is too big for volunteerism to fill, and the consequences of successive governments’ refusal to deal with it look more and more like negligence with every passing week.

Over the weekend, a 15-year-old girl called Martha Fernback died, apparently after taking a pill she believed to be ecstasy. Except it wasn’t ecstasy: it was a much stronger substance, called PMA. Because it takes longer to take effect, users suspecting a dud may unwittingly overdose. In the last year, it has been linked to dozens of deaths in the UK.

In the Netherlands, on the other hand, where the utility of a site like pillreports has been transcended by government-backed testing centres, where drug users can take their pills to ensure they aren’t adulterated, not a single such fatality has been recorded.

For a clue to the wrongheadedness of our attitude to all this, look closely at the headlines relating to Martha Fernback’s death. “Ecstasy drug schoolgirl dies”; “Girl, 15, dies after taking ecstasy”; “Girl died after taking ecstasy in the park”. But none of this is true, unless you think that meths in a wine bottle should be referred to as “wine”.

As is so wearyingly, miserably, enragingly often the case in our war on drugs, it turns out that it was not the drugs that did the killing, or at least not the drugs as they would be in another sort of society; instead, it was the war.   

Sensibly, South Wales Police recently issued a warning to recreational drug users about the dangers of PMA. “Users of these controlled drugs and in fact all controlled drugs should be aware that they can never be 100 per cent sure of exactly what they are taking,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Davies. He’s right, of course. But his observations, and the terrible case of Martha Fernback, prompt the question: if the hundreds of thousands of people who sometimes take “controlled” drugs can never be sure what they’re taking, are the drugs really “controlled” at all?

Twitter: @archiebland

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there