The dangers of drinking too much water...
A potentially deadly occurrence associated with 'rave' events is simply the over-consumption of water.
Water intoxication does not share an exclusive association with ecstasy consumption or dance parties. It can occur without these two factors being involved.
In 1995, two young women lost their lives due to excessive water consumption after consuming ecstasy, with their deaths receiving widespread media attention in their respective countries. The women were Anna Wood from Australia and Leah Sarah Betts from England. Their deaths were determined to be solely the result of excessive water intake. Anna attended a dance party whereas Leah did not.
A danger for young people in the context of dance or 'rave' parties, ecstasy and advice to remain 'hydrated', is dilutional hyponatremia or put simply, water intoxication. This is a condition where the blood level of sodium becomes too low and the brain consequently absorbs too much water due to an upset in the osmotic balance. The brain swells causing seizures and in the worst case scenario, can be irretrievably damaged, causing death.
Grossly excessive water intake can have fatal consequences. Image: Daria Shevtsova
Excessive intake of water can occur in the context of factors such as prolonged physical activity in a hot environment and/or advice to remain 'hydrated'. It is common for these deaths to be prematurely and incorrectly labeled as 'drug overdoses' or otherwise misattributed to ecstasy.
We live in an age where advice to drink water when not thirsty is common. This advice may come from quasi-health or self-interested commercial sources. As is very relevant here, it may come from organisers of dance or 'rave' events as a proposed method of preventing heat stroke.
Whatever the source or intention behind the advice, the result of drinking too much water can be catastrophic. Common sense would suggest that it is prudent to drink water only when prompted by thirst.
It is inevitable that deaths involving even the mere suggestion of illicit drug use in the context of dance events, are immediately labeled as 'supected drug overdoses'. This is the phrase of choice in Australia, even though the actual cause of death is unknown at the time. The media, police, politicians and others quickly move to implicate ecstasy or other illicit drugs, completely without justification.
The phrase 'suspected drug overdose' is completely dishonest and meaningless and is crafted in an attempt to conceal a baseless accusation: that the death was due solely to illicit drugs. The aim here is to infer and implicate for cynical political purposes, without the slightest amount of evidence.
Politicians immediately act to make political 'mileage' from such misfortune:
They use the death to justify 'drug policy' that is falsely portrayed as existing to protect the health and welfare of people. This policy involves the criminalisation of supply and possession. They do this whilst typically being in receipt of political donations from the alcohol industry, suppliers of the most dangerous drug for young people.
They quickly and without evidence infer that the death is due to illicit drugs, thereby conveying the inference that the drugs that pose the immediate threat to young people are those other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. This of course, is dangerously incorrect.
They sometimes use the incident to justify increasing the criminal sanctions applicable to the supply of illicit drugs. This has the effect of reducing supply, which in turn increases the market price and consequently makes the trade more lucrative. This ensures the continued supply of the very substances governments dishonestly say they are trying to restrict.
They steadfastly refuse to acknowledge publicly the occurrence of deaths due to hyponatremia, preferring to scapegoat ecstasy and other substances. This makes it more likely that these incidents continue to occur due to lack of education and awareness.
Those politicians and advocacy groups portraying themselves as progressive and compassionate, continue to advocate for 'pill testing' instead of being honest and genuine and demanding that supply be legal and regulated. These groups also remain noticeably silent on the subject of hyponatremia.
The responses of politicians are always founded on dishonesty and duplicity, even when the consequences can be dangerous and sometimes fatal to young people.
A common response from police before a cause of death can be ascertained, is to warn young people to avoid illicit drugs because the content and strength of the substances is unknown.
This is particularly ironic because a legal, regulated and safe supply of drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine is prevented by law worldwide and police play a fundamental role in the process.
The responses of parents are traditionally directed in a totally counterproductive way as regards preventing further deaths due to hyponatremia:
Some parents involve themselves in 'anti drugs' campaigns, even though ecstasy was not the cause of their child's death
They refuse to acknowledge publicly the real cause of the misfortune, ironically making it more likely that such deaths continue to occur
It is natural that parents will search for something to blame for the loss of a child. In this case, scapegoating ecstasy and other illicit drugs serves this purpose admirably, but does nothing to constructively and honestly address the actual danger, which is many young people's lack of knowledge of the dangers of water intoxication.
They also refuse to acknowledge openly that many young people will inevitably use substances other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine and that a legal and regulated supply of these drugs should be provided.
The response by many to deaths at dance and 'rave' events, regardless of the actual cause of death, invariably involves the introduction of pill testing. A cynical commercial opportunity is available with this response, but importantly, pill testing does nothing to address the fundamental issues affecting young people and use of ecstasy:
There should be no requirement for pill testing because all drugs should be supplied under the same regime as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine: a legal, regulated and safe supply. Anything else is merely a human-rights abuse.
Pill testing does not prevent deaths due to hyponatremia. Only education is effective in this case.
Pill testing aids those who seek to propagandise as to the cause of deaths at dance-related events, as it assists in communicating the incorrect assertion that incidents are all or predominately due to illicit drugs
Pill testing is merely a convenient and cynical diversion to the real issues, which are education regarding dilutional hyponatremia and the right of people to have a legal and regulated supply of their drug of choice.
Those charged with making and enforcing our laws continue to be completely dishonest and duplicitous when dealing with incidents involving hyponatremia in the context of dance and 'rave' events and the presence of illicit substances. Political gain and other forms of self-interest continue to take precedence over honest and responsible discourse and policy.