High society- Britain’s drug taking clubbers pt 2

The first wideranging academic study of clubbers’ behaviour in a decade, indicates that thousands of apparently successful, healthy and economically active people in their twenties, thirties and forties choose to be heavy recreational drug users at the weekend.

With permission from club proprietors, Measham and Moore did their fieldwork in Manchester, the epitome of the 24-hour party city. They set up a website to verify their work to clubbers, then interviewed them at the start of the evening before the drugs had made revellers too intoxicated.

One of the fundamental ironies the research uncovered is that because recreational drug users fuel the economy and cause few social problems — violent crime, aggression and antisocial behaviour are much more likely to be alcohol-related and occur outside pubs — they fail to get the support and services they need.

“There is a lack of knowledge about the types of drugs, a lack of accurate, non-judgmental and non-sensationalist information for these users,” says Moore, a lecturer in criminology. “Ketamine, for instance, does not go well with alcohol. Nor does GBL [which coverts to GHB in the body], which is widely used as an industrial cleaner, and is not illegal. I’ve been working with one man who had a serious daily dependency on GBL, but the doctors simply didn’t know what to do with him.”

Here too is highlighted another contradiction: between the growing commercialisation of the night-time economy and the increasing government policy of what Measham calls “the criminalisation of intoxication” without education, advice or treatment services attached. The people who suffer, under the present situation of tacit tolerance of drugs, are the users. “Even if the club owners wanted harmreduction literature in their club, it would acknowledge that there was drug taking on the premises. And they are concerned about being arrested or shut down.”

Last year the owner of the Dance Academy in Plymouth, Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh, and its manager, Tom Costelloe, were found guilty of allowing the venue to be used for the supply of Ecstasy and jailed for nine years and five years respectively. This despite neither man having actually sold drugs on the premises.

What is important, Measham and Moore say, is to draw the distinction between this kind of recreational drug use, and the problem drug use that dominates the political agenda and absorbs its resources. The two groups do not overlap; the dealers are different; and so are the drugs. 

Clubbers almost never take heroin or crack cocaine, the academics’ surveys show, and they remain in society. The UK’s problem drug users, with a daily dependency on such drugs, may be hugely outnumbered by the recreational drug takers — 150,000 as opposed to four million — but they remain the focus of government policy.

To use the phraseology of Russell Newcombe, a drug researcher for Lifeline Manchester, drugs represent “cocktails of celebration” for one group. For the other, they are a “cocktail of oblivion”. And the difference is profound.

Significantly, however, trends are changing. Recent analysis from the NHS’s National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse shows 22 per cent fewer young adults with a drug problem are using heroin and crack, and the number of under-25s seeking treatment for dependency on cocaine has risen 11 per cent.

To visit a club is to witness striking inconsistencies in the way that society deals with drugs. It is amusing to see a line of people, most of who have taken illegal drugs, queueing politely to get outside to the smoking area to consume a drug that is banned inside.

The lack of focus, criminal and otherwise, on recreational drugs means the risks to clubbers are going largely unassessed. Measham and Moore are concerned about the health impact from the new fashion for mixing drugs. The outcry over the death of Leah Betts appears not to have checked universal acceptance of Ecstasy, although there have been more than 200 Ecstasyrelated deaths in the UK since 1996. Many younger clubbers, the academics discovered, are ignorant of the fact that the increasingly popular MDMA powder is pure Ecstasy; and few are aware that ketamine is dangerous when mixed with alcohol.

“We would like to see a sensible debate about drugs without the shock, horror bit — if only because of the sheer numbers we see involved,” says Measham. “People have a desire to get intoxicated on a Friday night — the American pharmacologist Ronald Siegel once described intoxication as the fourth strongest irrepressable human desire after food, sleep and sex.

“That suggests that blanket prohibition is destined to be a disaster. We need a more sophisticated but also more realistic response. If people have a choice they don’t really want to break the law. That’s where the debate needs to take place.”

98 per cent of club customers had tried an illegal drug at least once
79 per cent had taken an illegal drug within the previous month
Only half as many bar customers (35 per cent) had taken an illegal drug in the previous month
85 per cent of clubbers had tried Ecstasy at least once
83 per cent had tried cocaine at least once
44 per cent had tried ketamine at least once
40 per cent had tried MDMA at least once

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