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Size matters: comparing the MDMA content and weight of ecstasy tablets submitted to European drug checking services in 2012–2021

Ruben Quirinus Vrolijk (DIMS, Trimbos Institute, Utrecht, The Netherlands and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Fiona Measham (Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK; Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France and The Loop, Manchester, UK)
Adrià Quesada (Energy Control, Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo, Barcelona, Spain)
Anton Luf (Checkit! Laboratory, Clinical Department of Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Wien, Austria and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Dominique Schori (Saferparty Streetwork (Schadensminderung illegale Substanzen), Zürich, Switzerland and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Sarah Radley (Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Dean Acreman (Substance Misuse Programme, Public Health Wales, Cardiff, UK and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Josie Smith (Substance Misuse Programme, Public Health Wales, Cardiff, UK)
Marko Verdenik (Association DrogArt, Ljubljana, Slovenia and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Daniel Martins (Kosmicare, Castelo Branco, Portugal; CIQUP, Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Mar Cunha (Kosmicare, Castelo Branco, Portugal and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Carlos J. Paulos (motion asbl/PIPAPO, Luxembourg, Luxembourg and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Ilaria Fineschi Piccinin (Cooperativa Sociale Alice Onlus, Neutravel, Grugliasco, Italy and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Enrico Gerace (Centro Regionale Antidoping e di Tossicologia “A.Bertinaria”, Orbassano, Italy)
Alexandra Karden (Checkit! Laboratory, Clinical Department of Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Wien, Austria)
Raoul Pieter Joost Koning (Department of Prevention, Jellinek, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Laura Alexandra Smit-Rigter (DIMS, Trimbos Institute, Utrecht, The Netherlands and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)
Mireia Ventura (Energy Control, Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo, Barcelona, Spain and Trans European Drug Information (TEDI), NEWNet, Paris, France)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 24 November 2022

Issue publication date: 7 December 2022

409

Abstract

Purpose

The 3,4-methylenedioxymetamphetamine (MDMA) content in ecstasy tablets has increased enormously throughout Europe across the past decade. This study aims to determine whether this is caused by the production of “stronger” tablets (more mg MDMA per mg of tablet), or if tablets have simply been getting larger and heavier (more mg of tablet in total).

Design/methodology/approach

A data set of 31,716 ecstasy tablets obtained in 2012–2021 by 10 members of the Trans European Drug Information (TEDI) network was analysed.

Findings

The MDMA mass fraction in ecstasy tablets has remained virtually unchanged over the past 10 years, with increased MDMA contents being attributed almost exclusively to increased tablet weight. These trends seem to be uniform across Europe, despite varying sampling and analytical techniques being used by the TEDI participants. The study also shows that while tablet weight correlates perfectly with MDMA content on a yearly basis, wide variations in the MDMA mass fraction make such relations irrelevant for determining the MDMA content of individual tablets.

Research limitations/implications

These results provide new opportunities for harm reduction, given that size is a tangible and apparently accurate characteristic to emphasise that one tablet does not simply equate to one dose. This is particularly useful for harm reduction services without the resources for in-house quantification of large numbers of ecstasy tablets, although the results of this study also show that chemical analysis remains crucial for accurate personalised harm reduction.

Originality/value

The findings are both new and pertinent, providing a novel insight into the market dynamics of ecstasy tablet production at a transnational level.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Declarations of interests: All authors are (paid and unpaid) staff at the TEDI member organisations that supplied the ecstasy tablet data.

Citation

Vrolijk, R.Q., Measham, F., Quesada, A., Luf, A., Schori, D., Radley, S., Acreman, D., Smith, J., Verdenik, M., Martins, D., Cunha, M., Paulos, C.J., Piccinin, I.F., Gerace, E., Karden, A., Koning, R.P.J., Smit-Rigter, L.A. and Ventura, M. (2022), "Size matters: comparing the MDMA content and weight of ecstasy tablets submitted to European drug checking services in 2012–2021", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 207-219. https://doi.org/10.1108/DHS-01-2022-0003

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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