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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    About 15 students used a test kit provided by Students for Sensible Drug Policy to assess the purity of Ecstasy pills in the days leading up to Spring Weekend, according to Jared Moffat '13, the group's president. Of those, it is possible a few were supplying those drugs to multiple users and were testing a large quantity of pills. Seven or eight students requested the kit last Spring Weekend, he said.

    About 60 percent of the pills tested contained MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy tablets. About 40 percent induced no reaction from the testing agents, Moffat said, citing feedback SSDP received from students who tested pills this year. Though no other substances were reported, the 40 percent of pills containing no MDMA may have included substances not detected by the chemicals of the test kit, Moffat said.

    The kit, which SSDP lent out free of charge to students for the third year in a row, can reveal the presence of a handful of substances, such as DXMdextromethorphan, a drug sometimes used in cough medicines and for pain relief — and methamphetamines, in pills sold as Ecstasy. It includes four liquid reagents that change color when they come into contact with different drugs and chemicals. A chart included in the kit correlates colors to chemicals.

    But the test cannot show how much of any substance is included in a pill. "It only tells you if there are certain chemicals present. It doesn't tell you the ratio," Moffat said.

    Roughly 20 students contacted SSDP via email to organize a time to meet. SSDP representatives explained how to use the kit and then lent it out for a short time.

    "We bought it, we're lending it out free of charge, but we don't actually handle any of the drugs," Moffat said.

    SSDP does not condone the use of illegal drugs, Moffat said. The group's mission is student education and protection. Brown students choose to buy and use drugs but are ignorant of the drugs' origins, he said. SSDP tries to help manage the risks involved in such behavior.

    The test kit shows students what they might ingest other than MDMA. "That's what we're trying to get people to do, think about what they're doing," Moffat said.

    "My real interest in this is harm reduction," agreed Rebecca Elizabeth McGoldrick '12, an SSDP member.

    "I saw people do some really dumb things" with drugs, especially in high school, she said.

    Because MDMA on its own cannot hold together, it has to be combined with other substances, such as corn starch, in order to bind together as a tablet. But some makers dilute the recipe with other drugs to stretch the MDMA and sell more pills. Pill makers often choose drugs that mimic the effects of MDMA to fool users into thinking they have bought the real thing, Moffat said.
    "Ecstasy is supposed to give you energy and a loving feeling," so pill makers might include amphetamine or caffeine to simulate an Ecstasy-induced energy rush, McGoldrick said.

    Other substances and drugs contained in a pill sold as Ecstasy can be more dangerous to the user than MDMA, especially if the user combines the pill with other substances such as alcohol.

    A female junior who used MDMA last Friday said she sent SSDP an email requesting use of the kit a few hours before that night's concert, but the group did not get back to her until the next day. She said she cannot blame SSDP because it must have been a busy time, and the group emailed her back within 24 hours. "I think I should've given them at least a day warning," she said. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because use of MDMA is illegal.

    Friday was her first time taking Ecstasy, she said, so she did not know exactly what to expect. But "there's some suspicion" among her friends about the composition of the pills they took, she said.

    Coming down from her high left her anxious Saturday, she said. But she and a friend experienced another bout of anxiety on Sunday, she said, which made her question the purity of the pills.

    "It's unclear what was just the MDMA, and what was something else," she said, adding that she now feels fine.

    "It was really fun," she said of her experience. "It was pretty gentle, in terms of the high."

    "I'm glad I had the experience," she said, but "I probably wouldn't do it again."

    Jake Comer
    Senior Staff Writer
    Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011



  1. Phenoxide
    I really dislike the impression this passage gives about what these field test reagents can tell a person. I find it to be rather misleading. Field test reagents can never conclusively identify that a pill contains MDMA. All that one can say is that the color change observed for each test is consistent with what would be expected if MDMA were present in the sample. There could be something else present that gives exactly the same color change. If four related tests are performed and all are consistent with the results expected for MDMA, then the probability of MDMA being present is likely to be high, but not 100%. Probable is not the same as certain.

    These reagents are also totally unreliable when it comes to handling a mixture of multiple actives. For example a pill containing 125mg MDMA and 30mg 2C-B may give a color change consistent with MDMA as it is the major active ingredient. The qualitative effects and risks associated with such a pill would be very different from pure MDMA. In cases like this putting too much faith in the field tests (or rather misinterpreting the scope of the results) may actually put people at more risk. The extent to which field test reagents reduce harm (especially in the format they are currently sold) has been debated for some time now, as outlined in this article:

    From the archives: Ecstasy pill testing: harm minimization gone too far? (2001)

    That said I appreciate what the SSDP are trying to do here. My concern is that based on how it has been reported in this article they are actually misleading those coming to them about how the kits can be used. I also understand that they need to distance themselves from handling controlled substances, but the fact that the reagents are being used unsupervised also leads to potential problems with interpretation even if preliminary training was given:

    Really all that these tests can be used for with any degree of reliability is ruling out the presence of MDMA. If those 40% of pills that came up as likely to be MDMA negative were trashed rather than consumed then I guess it's been a positive thing. However if it comes at the cost of giving the other 60% false confidence that they have highly pure MDMA then that could be problematic. It's a complicated issue and having thought about it I'm not sure on which side of the fence I fall.
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