Leading Article: A million reasons to be in the know

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The Independent Online
Last night a million young people, maybe more, took Ecstasy and Joanna Maplethorpe began a nine-month jail sentence for supplying her best friend with an Ecstasy tablet. Around the clubs there may have been discussion about the near-death of Ms Maplethorpe's friend. But the rituals will have continued and the tablets will have passed between a million friends - each risking a prison sentence. Next Saturday the same numbers will take the same risks, uppermost in their minds the fear of being caught rather than of death.

This will offend but it should be said. Ecstasy per se does not kill, and young people know it. It is demonstrated some 200 million times a year. If there are allergic reactions, and Dr John Henry of Guy's Hospital doubts that we have yet seen them, we remain in ignorance of how they work. But other associated activities do kill, such as attempting to combat dehydration with too much water, taking contaminated pills and, as with Ms Maplethorpe's friend, taking them with a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol. Afraid that talking of safe use, or of vetting tablets (as in the Netherlands), would be seen as condoning drug-taking, we cannot prevent these deaths.

Joanna Maplethorpe is not a pusher. Nor is your daughter, or son. Maybe Judge Geoffrey Mercer thinks his exemplary sentence will save lives. History proves him wrong. Maybe no children of his acquaintance take drugs. Is he sure? But, quietly, fearing the sounds of their own voices, some MPs, some police officers, some doctors are calling for the decriminalisation of drugs. It is unlikely to happen. What must happen, though, is for the Government to acknowledge that ignorance is a killer.

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