'It's a game of roulette': Aberdare mum whose son died after taking MDMA wants drugs legalised

  • 'The law isn’t protecting the people who are using these substances'

Nadia Rees’ son Ben was 23 when he died after taking MDMA.

He was on holiday in Berlin with friends at the time and wasn’t told the MDMA he bought included a lethal substitute - PMA. PMA is a substance that gives similar effects to MDMA but is cheaper and more poisonous.

Now his mum is calling for illegal drugs to be made legal so that they can be regulated and people know exactly what they’re taking.

Ben was 23 when he died while on holiday in Berlin. Credit: Family photo

Nadia described Ben as a sportsman, a musician and as very, very sociable. A few weeks before he died he told his girlfriend that, “this has been the best year”. 

In the lounge of their family home in Aberdare, I asked her whether legalising harmful drugs would actually cause more harm.

“The harm that’s been caused in Wales over the past year by illegal or illicit drug use, as they call it, is higher than it’s ever been so the law isn’t protecting the people who are using these substances,” Nadia told me.

Nadia is now working with the organisation Anyone’s Child - a network of families who have been devastated by drugs and are calling for current drug laws to be changed. 

Nadia described Ben as a sportsman, a musician and as very, very sociable. Credit: Family photo

Neil Woods is a former undercover police officer who believes we should take the supply away from criminals and regulate those drugs, like we do other dangerous things such as  alcohol and tobacco.

I asked him if it sent out the wrong message, that even if these drugs are made legal they can still be dangerous.

He replied: "It’s because they’re dangerous that we need to regulate them”.  He said all the deaths after taking MDMA he’s aware of in the UK have been because the dosage has been too high in the tablet, or it contained a more dangerous substance.

Wedinos is a harm reduction project. They run a lab where people can send in their drugs for testing. Around one in three of those drugs that they test are not what people thought they had bought.

According to the Office for National Statistics 4,859 deaths in Wales and England last year were related to drug poisoning. Whilst these figures include legal drugs, it’s worth noting the rate of drug misuse deaths in Wales rose by 42% from 2020 - though this may have been affected by delays in death registrations due to covid. 

The Home Office said tackling drug misuse is a priority. The UK Government’s emphasis is on preventing drug use in communities, supporting people through treatment and recovery, and to tackle the supply of illegal drugs - is has no plans to decriminalise harmful drugs.