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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 13:42 GMT
Safety on the dancefloor
Some four million people go clubbing each week
Nightclubs are being urged, by the government, no less, to be more accommodating to drug users. But, it seems, much of the official advice is already standard practice.

For more than a decade now, lawmakers have wrestled with the quandary of the Ecstasy Generation.

While the government's latest step echoes much of the rhetoric of previous campaigns, highlighting the dangers of drugs, it also marks a radical break with past policy.

DJs should regulate the beat of their music
In its Safer Clubbing guide, the Home Office appears to face up to the fact that millions of people are just not listening to what they perceive as its headmasterly advice.

Of the four million people who regularly go out clubbing in Britain today, about half are thought to be regular drug users.

According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, 100 million ecstasy pills are consumed in Britain each year. Use of cannabis and, to a lesser extent, cocaine, is widely accepted in some social groups.

Many of these drugs are consumed either in nightclubs, or, in an effort to avoid detection, shortly before clubbers saunter past the doormen and on to the dancefloor.

Any effect?

The guide to Safer Clubbing acknowledges that a significant section of British society view drugs as "an integral part of their night out".

And it advises club owners on how to provide a safer environment for users. The recommendations include:

  • ensuring plentiful supplies of free water to protect users against dehydration
  • regulating numbers to avoid overcrowding
  • providing good ventilation and "chill out" rooms for a breather
  • regulating the beat of dance music to help guard against overheating
  • staff being trained in first aid

So will it have any impact? Paul French, clubs editor at Mixmag, does not foresee a revolution in nightclub culture, mainly because most clubs abide by these practices already.

"Most clubs have a zero-tolerance attitude to drugs," says French, "and this has been the case for some time now."

Ecstasy tablet
100 million Es are taken each year in the UK
Clubbers are used to being searched before they go and if "they find any drugs on you they'll take them away or even call the police".

But French acknowledges that, short of a strip search, it will always be easy to sneak a few pills or a bit of coke through.

Research by his own magazine, which caters for clubbers, reinforces the view that drugs and clubs are still synonymous. A study of 1,000 readers found 98% took drugs.

The new guidelines will put pressure on more irresponsible clubs to sharpen up their practices, says Danny Kushlick, of the drugs think-tank Transform.

Free choice

"What the government seems to be doing with this guide is encouraging councils, who hand out licences to these clubs, to ensure that these safety measures are being taken. It's really just a firming up of practices that are already common."

Lorna Spinks
Lorna Spinks died after her temperature hit 109F after taking an E
And clubbers, who have come to expect better conditions in recent years, will "vote with their feet".

"It's not good news to get your punters upset. Club-goers want to have somewhere they can sit down and they don't want to pay 3 for a glass of water," says Mr Kushlick.

"It's about comfort as much as safety."

Paul French feels the Home Office's efforts could be more usefully deployed by talking to the clubbers themselves.

Drugs downturn

"I think they've slightly missed the point. They haven't put any money into telling people about the risks, how much is too much and highlighting deaths from ecstasy."

In 2000, 36 deaths in the UK were linked to ecstasy, compared to eight in 1993. But there are at least signs that the threat of excessive drug use is fading.

There was a 13% fall in ecstasy use in 2001, according to the Mixmag survey, despite the cost of a tablet falling to an all time low of about 4. Use of cocaine, amphetamines, and "new" dance drugs ketamine and GHB were also down among surveyed readers.

"People are starting to realise that you don't need to take 10 pills if you want to go to a club," says French, "and they're saying 'I'll just have one or two'."

Drugs in clubs
Should there be rules on safety?
See also:

07 Mar 02 | UK
Nightclubs get drugs advice
14 Jan 02 | Health
Clubbers' mental health risk
09 May 01 | E-F
Ecstasy: The health dangers
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