Can Ecstasy Kill?

Drug Abuse and Addiction

Controversially, pro ecstasy campaigners and many doctors say it is not E and its constituent drug, MDMA, that kills. They say various things associated with ecstasy can, and do, occasionally kill - it depends on how the person reacts and whether the ecstasy tablet is pure MDMA or not.

The three main causes of death after taking ecstasy are:

1. heat stroke - the heart speeds up and the body temperature rises above 40c

2. water toxicity - the drug releases vasopressin, a hormone which encourages water retention, and also a chemical that causes women to drink more fluids. The water is retained in the brain neurons and the pressure shuts down the main bodily functions

3. heart failure - the drug causes a rise in blood pressure and heart rate.

Ecstasy Made Personal

Take for example the highly publicised case in the UK of Leah Betts who died after taking a single ecstasy tablet on a night out to celebrate her 18 th birthday. She died of water intoxication. But her best friend took the exact same brand and dosage and lived.

Likewise Lorna Spinks, a 19-year-old Cambridge student, died from overheating after taking two ecstasy tablets. It was later found that each tablet had come from a rogue batch and had double the normal dosage.

To date there have been around 200 ecstasy related deaths in the UK over the last 15 years, reaching an all time high of 43 in 2001 in England and Wales. In the US the figure is estimated to be about 80 deaths a year - a small number in comparison with the huge number of users ( US customs seize about more than nine million E tablets in the year 2000).

The Council of Biostatics Unit, using 1996 figures to attempt to calculate the death rate in 15 to 24 year-olds, came up with a rate of between one in 100,000 and one in 200,0000. Technically speaking this makes ecstasy use safer than both playing rugby and horse riding.

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