A little-noticed postscript yesterday to the death of Annabel Catt, which attracted big media coverage two weeks ago.

Catt died after attending the Good Vibrations music festival in Sydney, at which she had taken what she and her friends assumed to be ecstasy (MDMA).

Anti-drug campaigners promptly leapt on the story to boost their cause, saying “ecstasy use was a growing problem among young people.”

It emerged a couple of days later that what she actually had in her bloodstream was a rare toxic amphetamine, paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA). Police then issued a warning that tablets containing PMA could be being passed off as ecstasy.

Then yesterday the police admitted that they already had such tablets, seized some weeks earlier, but the test results revealing the presence of PMA didn’t come back until it was too late for Annabel Catt.

As AAP reported, “Detective Superintendent Greig Newbery of the NSW Drug Squad said the time it now took to routinely test police drug hauls — eight to 12 weeks — could be improved.” Had this happened, it “certainly may have provided a bit more information to the public”.

But Newbery negated the effect of this (rather qualified) apology by adding “Police are continually providing the message to the public that all prohibited drugs are dangerous.”

If this means that ecstasy and PMA are somehow in the same league of toxicity, it’s absolute nonsense. As this case has shown, almost all the risk in taking ecstasy is the risk of contamination: ecstasy on its own is far less harmful than our recreational drug of choice, alcohol.

But the prohibitionists refuse to admit that, even at the cost of mixed messages that will end up costing more lives.

The primary responsibility for Catt’s death lies with those who sold her toxins under the guise of ecstasy.

A large share of the guilt, however, goes to the policy of prohibition that forces the ecstasy trade into the netherworld where such things happen.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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