What is MDMA and why have there been so many deaths in the West Country?

Credit: PA

MDMA has claimed the lives of nine young people from across our region, in the space of just a year.

The so-called 'party drug' is now up to five times stronger than it was 20 years ago.

Devon and Cornwall Police says young people are being exposed to it in new ways, partly because of the dark web.

But the Drug and Alcohol Charity Addaction says the majority of teenagers source drugs from someone they know.

Shakira's Pellow's family wanted to share this picture to raise awareness. Credit: Family photo
  • What is MDMA?

MDMA is the chemical name for the Class A drug Ecstasy.

It is also sometimes referred to as Molly, Mandy, E, Crystal, or other names.

Ecstasy became popular in the 80s and 90s as a clubbing drug. It alters mood and perception and gives users a feeling of being energised. It can also temporarily make users develop enhanced feelings of affection for people around them, including strangers.

It's often described as the original 'designer drug' because of its high profile links to dance music culture.

Clubbers took ecstasy to feel energised, happy, to stay awake and to dance for hours.

  • Is it legal?

MDMA/ecstasy is a Class A drug which means it's illegal to have, give away or sell.

Possession can get you up to seven years in jail and supplying someone else can get you life sentence and an unlimited fine.

Driving when under the influence of drugs is also illegal - in fact you can still be unfit to drive the day after taking it.

  • Why is it so risky?

Sometimes it is cut with amphetamines or caffeine because it's cheaper to produce.

There is no way of telling what is in ecstasy until you've swallowed it. There may be negative side effects from other drugs and ingredients added to it.

Anyone with a heart condition, blood pressure problems, epilepsy or asthma can have a very dangerous reaction to the drug.

Sometimes what people think are ecstasy tablets can contain other new psychotic substances or fillers which are stronger but take longer to kick in.

Long term users can suffer memory loss, depression, and anxiety. It's also been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems.

Between 1996 and 2014 in England and Wales there were 670 deaths in which ecstasy/MDMA was the cause.

Oliver Woods, 21, became seriously ill after taking the drug at a house party in Bude. Credit: Family photo
  • What do the experts say?

Jodie Lynes from drug and alcohol charity Addaction Truro says today's MDMA is up to five times stronger than it was 20-30 years ago.

''The strength and potency of MDMA has increased hugely. In the 80s and 90s a standard ecstasy pill would contain 50-80 milligrams of MDMA. We're now getting reports of an average of 120 but anything up to 240 plus. Therefore we're living in a world where the kind of potency of MDMA is different and therefore the way it's interacting with young people is different.''


MDMA related deaths nationally last year.

Addaction Truro says the majority of drug-using teenagers they speak to say they are sourcing drugs from someone they know.

We need to be really aware that young people need to be taught how to reduce harm, they need to be taught how to look at risks and think are these risks I want to take?

Jodie Lynes, Addaction Truro

Addaction has launched a national campaign called #havethechat - it's encouraging parents to do their own drugs research, sit down with their children and have an open discussion about drugs, even if it means hearing something they might not like.

Devon and Cornwall Police says young people are being exposed in new ways, partly due to a network of hidden websites called the dark web.

We've seen instances where we believe drugs have been purchased through the dark web, it's definitely becoming more accessible. Having said that I think also the accessibility on the wider web still exists as well, so we are convinced a lot of the MDMA is coming through that route.

DCI Stuart Cavin, Devon & Cornwall Police
  • Where can you find more information?

You can find information and advice around MDMA and drugs by following any of the links below:

  • For confidential advice you can Talk To Frank

  • Advice on addiction and dependancy head to [Mind](http://Addiction and dependency)

  • Addaction provides nationwide support with drug and alcohol addiction

  • NHS UK have advice for families of drug users

  • List of local charities near you

  • The Drugs Information service has more information about substances.