Pharmacy a poor fit for supply of illegal party drugs like ecstasy


ecstasy or MDMA stop sign

Community pharmacy would be a poor fit for the supply of party drugs such as ecstasy if they were legalised and regulated, says the PSA national president Joe Demarte, following a call to make the drug available from pharmacies.

Melbourne pharmacist Joshua Donelly and Professor David Penington published an article in the Journal of Law and Medicine arguing that those who take the drug are at risk of harm because its manufacture is unregulated. The article was reported on in Fairfax papers.

They say ecstasy (MDMA)’s supply through community pharmacy would allow for a consistent, uncontaminated dosage as well as counselling and advice on interactions and its use in consumers with medical conditions.

But PSA‘s Joe Demarte says that there’s no clear parallel between any potential supply of ecstasy, and with existing harm minimisation programs such as the supply of methadone.

“They’re taking a harm minimisation angle: saying that if you get it in pharmacy it’ll be purer, and those people will suffer less harm; but traditionally this is a drug that’s not been available freely and you’ve got to look not just at the harm minimisation angle, but the overall effect on society,” he told the AJP.

“But this stuff doesn’t have any real therapeutic use apart from getting people high.

“When pharmacies supply methadone, it’s to stop the patient going into withdrawal. And you’re offering a different compound, so it’s not a total comparison.

“You’re offering methadone, which is considered possibly less harmful than the opiate, whereas with this they’re saying you’d supply the same stuff.

“Is that quality use of medicines? I don’t know how you’d justify that.”

An article in The Age cites a British study which ranks ecstasy the 17th-most harmful drug out of 20, with tobacco at number 6 and alcohol first. But Demarte says ecstasy is illegal for a reason.

“It’s not considered the sort of drug that you’d want to have freely available, and its scheduling recognises the fact that there are possible deleterious side-effects and no apparent therapeutic benefit,” he says.

“There are potential problems like increased heart rate, increased body temperature, hallucinations, that sort of thing – they’re quite well recognised as problems with amphetamines.

“Yes, we’ve got cigarettes and alcohol freely available, but not in pharmacies and I don’t know that this is any argument to say, ‘let’s put another harmful substance there’.

“If there was new evidence and they found that taking this stuff turned out to be great for depression, well, you’d probably have to look at that evidence, from a harm minimisation perspective, and a quality use of medicines perspective, and there’d need to be sufficient evidence for that schedule to change and we’d form a policy.”

According to The Age, the Victorian Government currently has no plans to consider making ecstasy legal.

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