According to the New York Post, toxicology exams for Jeffery Russ, 23, and Olivia Rotondo, 20, have been completed and cause of death has been confirmed. While Rotondo’s death is attributed to “acute intoxication after taking MDMA”, Russ’s death was due to a “fatal mix of MDMA and methylone”.
The death of Matthew Rybarczyk, 20, this past June at a festival on Governor’s Island has also been confirmed as an overdose of methylone. The designer drug’s presence has increased substantially over the past year and so has the subsequent damage. What’s most frightening is that the majority of festival/club goers have no idea what this substance is let alone know that they may have taken it thinking it was “Molly” a.k.a. MDMA in crystal form. According to a feature in Mixmag, “In March this year, the Miami Herald reported that in just 12 months there had been a staggering 16-fold increase in seizures of methylone, while MDMA seizures had dropped off a cliff. In 2011, Miami police reports show drugs sold as Molly were seized and submitted for testing 207 times. The overwhelming majority – 190 – contained MDMA, while just 17 contained methylone. But in 2012, seizures were up to 337, a 63 per cent rise. Testing proved that 278 samples contained methylone, and just 59 contained MDMA.”
So, what is methylone? Methylone is a a synthetic empathogen that has a similar chemical structure to MDMA. When taken, the analogue has similar effects to the body such as feelings of euphoria and an increase in sociability, heart rate, and body temperature. However, it’s often been described as a tweekier high than pure MDMA and does not last as a long so the user finds themselves taking larger quantities to sustain the same high. Because methylone use in human history is short and studies have not been conducted, long term effects and its overall toxicity are yet to be seen.
So, why the increase, and why is molly/ecstasy being cut with compounds like methylone and MDPV? The answer is simple economics. When there is an overwhelming demand for a product and a large income to be made by supplying that demand, people will go to great lengths to be the supplier. When MDMA is increasingly hard to find and insanely expensive, suppliers are going to find cheaper chemicals that mimic the effects of MDMA. According to Mixmag, a kilo of methylone can be purchased for $3,000 to $5,000 which is 10 times cheaper than the same quantity of MDMA.
And, when it is impossible to visually spot the difference between pure crystal MDMA and methylone, drug dealers are going to peddle the cheaper stuff at real stuff price thus further increasing their profit margin. Also, by simply changing one molecule in the chemical structure, an analogue is created and is not covered under current drug laws until lawmakers play catch up. Until then, it makes the legal prosecution of the use and sale difficult. This is the case of methylone in New York State. Although bath salts are illegal in New York, and methylone is federally classified as a Schedule 1 drug, it is yet to be covered under the bath salts ban within the state.
So, why is MDMA more expensive and hard to find? Simple. Because it’s illegal. The primary tactics of the U.S.’s War on Drugs is apprehension of supply and suppliers. Decades of battles between law enforcement and drug dealers, billions of taxpayer dollars to fund that battle, and continued prevalence of drugs in the U.S. clearly shows that only addressing the supply chain side of the economic equation and ignoring the deeply entrenched demand is a recipe for failure. So, confiscation of safrole oil, the precursor for MDMA, increases its scarcity and drives up the prices. The end result is what is happening now. Pill pressers and amateur chemists in shady backroom labs are trying to find cheaper substitutes that’ll get the job done no matter the human cost. Countries like New Zealand are starting to realize that it’s time for progressive thinking and policy making as ways to effectively address this issue. The first of its kind, New Zealand has recently passed the Psychoactive Substance Act of 2013 which sets the precedent for government to regulate the sale of new synthetic drugs. A government agency can now ensure “that synthetic psychoactive products meet adequate safety standards before going to market” and establish regulatory restrictions such as purchasing age, labeling requirements, and advertising restrictions. Check out the Drug Policy Alliance for more info on the new legislation and here for more informative material on current drug policy.
So, what does this all mean? First of all, the majority of drug dealers do not care about their customers. This is not Burger King where you can get it your way. The bottom line for a dealer is always profit and some are ruthless to knowingly sell bunk or potentially fatal products to their buyers. Some dealers may not even know the chemical make up of their product because chances are, they didn’t even make it. There are only two ways to safeguard yourself. 1) Don’t be a consumer. 2) If you must be a consumer, protect yourself by buying a test kit. Test kits and useful information are available at sites like dancesafe.org and pillreports.com. Secondly, drug policy in the United States has seen gradual change over the past decade especially with the movement to legalize marijuana. However, such change in policy for psychoactive substances is unlikely in the near future. Hopefully, the recent legislation in New Zealand will produce promising results to lead other governments in a direction of more cost effective and efficient policy making. Until then, judgement and stigmatization will continue to breed ignorance so take on the responsibility of seeking out information to educate yourself and others.
Finally, we have mainstream media, once again, pointing the finger at rave/festival/club attendees as junkies claiming that our sense of togetherness is all an illusion created by drug consumption. Outsiders tend to fear what they don’t understand. So, the power of a genre based on computers and not traditional instruments is not even considered as a possibility for creating such a diverse and booming culture. But, how do we combat these damning accusations when our community is experiencing a generational clash which is causing a divisive rift?
Perhaps, a change in personal paradigm and re-shifting of values is part of a larger answer. Perhaps, we need to widen our capacity to understand and find resolve through a united front within. For the more experienced generation to perceive a drug overdose as “dumb kids can’t handle their drugs and they’re ruining the party” is unproductive and alienating. So, I challenge the veterans to be more understanding of the less experienced and acknowledge that everyone goes through growing pains. Instead of imposing judgement and scowling disapproval that you also face from external sources because of your choice in music and lifestyle on the very people coming into the scene, reach out and make a positive impact through your experiential expertise. And, for the less experienced who have been flooding the rave gates, remember that you’re walking into a home that people have built over decades with their love of music and sharing that love with others. Barging in with a sense of entitlement and lack of consideration is going to lessen your overall experience and ruin someone else’s. Also, remember you are not a cat with 9 lives and YOLO is definitely real. So pace yourself. There will always be another festival, another show, another party. It’s a lot more fun to stay coherent and make memories you can recall. $400 for a festival ticket seems like a huge waste if you’re curled up in a corner from taking too much or mixing too much of everything. Personal responsibility is the name of the game here and your body, brain, and friends will be very appreciative the faster you learn it. Although the amount of deaths at festivals or raves are minuscule compared to alcohol or tobacco related deaths in the general public, loss of human life no matter the reason is always crucial. We can help prevent future loss with a unified effort to understand and educate so we don’t lose another Jeffery Russ or Olivia Rotondo.