New kid in the narcotics neighborhood?

Contrary to police statistics, local bar and security staff claim an increase in use of MDMA in Queen’s nightlife

A manager at a local bar says he sees an increase in patrons using MDMA at special events, like the Oct. 6 Steve Aoki concert at Stages night club, pictured above.
A manager at a local bar says he sees an increase in patrons using MDMA at special events, like the Oct. 6 Steve Aoki concert at Stages night club, pictured above.
Journal File Photo

A manager at a bar in the downtown Hub says he’s seeing an increase in MDMA in Kingston nightlife.

“I’ve worked here now for three years and I’ve only started hearing more about it in the last few months,” said the man who requested anonymity. “There’s obviously a rise. I wouldn’t hear about it if there wasn’t.

“If I compare my first year managing to this year, I see more people on more than just alcohol than I did when I first started.”

Health Canada describes MDMA (Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) as the illegal hallucinogen more commonly known as ecstasy. It has stimulant properties known for producing feelings of euphoria, pleasure and diminished anxiety in users. Hallucinogens are a category of drug that includes PCP, LSD and psilocybin, the active agent in magic mushrooms.

While it’s difficult to quantify how many people he sees on MDMA each night, the manager said he catches around one to three people using the drug over an average weekend.

“It definitely has to be Queen’s students,” he said, adding that because students hail from larger Canadian city centres like Toronto and Ottawa, it’s easy for the drug to make it to Kingston. “Say we have 750 people in our bar, I bet 700 of them are Queen’s students.”

He said he’s seen a larger amount of patrons using MDMA during special events like the Oct. 6 Steve Aoki performance at Stages night club. All-ages events also see an increase in MDMA because the drug is an available alternative when alcohol isn’t being sold, he said. He said MDMA is becoming the drug of choice amongst the Queen’s community.

“I think it’s the new fad, it’s like a new clothing line,” he said. “[When you’re talking] about drugs and alcohol it’s about what’s in, what’s new.”

Since he started working at the bar, staff have found people carrying other drugs but never MDMA. He said it’s probably because bouncers at his bar aim to catch people on MDMA before they enter.

It’s protocol for both the person’s safety and for obvious legal reasons. He said the risk of having a bad reaction to the drug increases once the person is inside because of possible alcohol consumption. If a person were to get sick, overdose or get caught using or selling the drugs inside his bar they would face great legal repercussions, he said.

“I can tell by a person’s face that they’ve had too much to drink, but a person’s face or body mannerisms when they’re on a drug like MDMA or ecstasy is significantly different,” he said. “What I find is that when someone is too drunk they look like they’re ready for bed, their face goes hazy. If they’re on something else, they’re on cloud nine. And just alcohol and Red Bull doesn’t do that to people, there’s obviously something more at play.”

In 2008, MDMA was separated into its own type of drug violation on the provincial and national level due to its increasing prevalence in the country. According to a 2010 Statistics Canada report, the incident-based crimes with MDMA are on the rise. Charges included in the survey were importation, exportation, trafficking or possession of the drug.

There were a reported 406 MDMA-related crimes in Canada in 2008, 31 of which were in Ontario. By last year numbers in Ontario had tripled, rising to 108 reported crimes out of a national total of 753.

The survey tallied the ages of the perpetrators, finding almost a quarter of the MDMA-related crimes were committed by youths aged 17 and younger. The previous year the percentage of youths involved was only 13 per cent.

According to Statistics Canada, Kingston is unable to report on its MDMA-related crimes because its information system can’t code these violations as separate incidents so charges dealing with MDMA are still grouped together with other drug-related crimes.

Dr. Suzanne Billing, medical director of Queen’s Student Health Services said there’s a multitude of behavioural symptoms when a person uses MDMA that may make it obvious for others to notice.

“[They] are often energetic, euphoric, pronounced wakefulness, sexual arousal, disinhibition [and] excessive sweating,” she told the Journal via email. “They often feel they have special physical and mental powers; they may experience a floating feeling.”

Symptoms of an MDMA overdose usually begin with nausea, teeth-grinding and a fast heart rate, Billing said, adding that it may escalate to seizures, spontaneous bleeding throughout the body, coma and death.

Billing said there’s a false assumption that MDMA is safe, however the risk of an overdose is very high due to the drug’s strong potential to cause dependency. Addicted users may feel they need to increase doses in order to experience the same high, she said.

“MDMA does not typically cause violent behaviour which could create a need for police involvement as a safety measure,” Billing said. “It is sometimes laced with drugs such as PCP which may trigger aggressive actions and require police involvement because of the behaviour, not the drug.”

She said a proliferation of MDMA use is not a problem unique to Kingston. The drug’s particular characteristics are making it increasingly popular.

“It is definitely an issue which is not specific to Kingston,” Billing said. “It is very prevalent in North America in most cities, large and small.

“It is relatively cheap and easy to produce. The effects are very desirable to some and it is often erroneously believed to be safe.”

Kingston Police spokesperson Constable Mike Menor said marijuana and cocaine pose a larger problem than MDMA.

“I checked with our drug unit and they have no incidents in the Queen’s area re this type of drug,” he told the Journal via email. “Good news I guess.”

Head Manager and Chief Student Constable Nicolass Jonkman said that although it’s rare, there have been incidents where constables have caught patrons using drugs like MDMA this year.

“I don’t know whether it’s an increase in the amount of drugs being used or maybe we’re just getting better at catching it, but I still think it’s a very small group of individuals that are using it,” Jonkman, ArtSci ’10, said.

StuCons work as security officers at many on-campus events and locations including the Queen’s Pub, Alfie’s and the Clark Hall Pub. Jonkman said that if they were to catch someone on MDMA it would most likely be at an event with more of a “party” atmosphere, like Alfie’s or a special event.

“It’s very hard to kick someone out for doing drugs without actually catching them [using],” he said, adding that although the StuCons are not specifically trained in identifying people on MDMA, all StuCons are required to have their Smart Serve certification and this year have undergone an additional 40 hours of provincially-mandated government training which included information on drug use.

Jonkman said in the search for students on MDMA, constables look for abnormal behaviour similar to what they look for when people are drunk. “It kind of goes along with people who are extremely intoxicated … so if someone who is on MDMA is acting bizarrely or inappropriately we would ask them to leave as well,” he said. “The primary focus is on alcohol, but we are trained to be aware of other substances which may affect people’s judgement.”

Although he’s aware of an increase of MDMA use on campus he says it is very difficult to control.

“The only thing we can do is our best to monitor people and determine whether they’re on the drug or not,” Jonkman said. “I don’t know if it can be classified as a huge problem or not at this point.”

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