LA's “Ecstasy Cards” Aren't Winning Raves

By Dirk Hanson 04/04/11
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LA officials not sure knowledge is power
Photo via blogs.laweekly.

A plan by the L.A. Department of Public Health to distribute informational postcards about the dangers of Ecstasy ran up against a wall of political blustering from a disapproving politician recently. “Counseling young people on the use of the illegal drug ecstasy is stupid and contrary to Los Angeles County’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs,” said L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. Local public health officials claim that the description cards, designed to be passed out at local raves, are intended to save lives by pointing out the dangers inherent in MDMA use. These include hyperthermia, or increased body temperature; and hyponatremia, or electrolyte imbalance. In a flare-up reminiscent of the 80's-era argument that informing young people about condoms would compel them to have sex, Antonovich complained in the L.A. Times that the flier had crossed an ethical line, “counseling young people on the use of the illegal drug.” In a blistering response to what appears to be a one-man crusade against common sense, psychiatrist Julie Holland wrote in a Los Angeles Times blog that “Hyponatremia is a real concern. Encouraging people who consume Ecstasy to stay hydrated is vital, but it’s equally important to emphasize the risks of drinking too much water too quickly.” Dr. Holland says she finds it “puzzling that such an innocuous information delivery system has generated such a cauldron of controversy. It's one thing to disapprove of young people using alcohol and drugs," she says. "It's another thing to deny them information that could literally save their lives.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]