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Author Topic: [Bluelight] Drug users swap stories, share warnings online in search for safety  (Read 4798 times)

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Drug users swap stories, share warnings online in search for safety

November 16, 2016

"People will use the systems that are available": Dr Monica Barratt

"I realised I was falling through an infinite tunnel … seeing myself living lives I've never lived."

"Great. Now I'm trapped in a dark alien trash compactor … I'm snorkelling face down like the alien-doctors wanted me to?!"

"The most f---ed up experience of my life."

This is a very different kind of online trip adviser.

nstead of swapping travel tips and hotel reviews, users on the website Bluelight share their "trip reports": the things they experience under the influence of drugs.

Pill reports and harm reduction sites have become the most popular sources of information for drug users around the world, alerting them to bad batches circulating in the community.

Most illegal drugs are produced with no quality control, exposing users to a greater risk of harm from high doses, low purity and, in rare cases, drugs that are contaminated with substances that can be more potent than the drug itself.

A recent survey of more than 850 Australians who used psychostimulants and/or hallucinogens in the preceding year found 72 per cent went to pill-report websites to find information about the substances.

With MDMA, the link between dose and the risk of death is unpredictable.

Almost half (49 per cent) visited drug harm reduction websites and forums, the survey by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) found.

Just 18 per cent looked at government websites, preferring Google and other search engines (49 per cent), Wikipedia (37 per cent), Facebook news feeds (27 per cent) and even Reddit (24 per cent).

Users offer each other support and guidance when they've had a bad trip and help build the encyclopaedic list of substances, their reported source, chemical composition, effects and harms.

The information can be surprisingly accurate. It can also be dangerous guesswork.

Researchers at the Dutch government-sponsored Drug Information Monitoring Service tested the reliability of the drug content and dosage information on ecstasy pill report websites by comparing it with their own data.

They reported most of the content on the sites should not be considered harmful, but they deemed 15 per cent of reports could be dangerous, usually because they underestimated the amount of MDMA in particular batches.

But DIMS' data is not publicly available. In a climate of zero tolerance drug policies, the sites often offer users the only time-sensitive pill alerts.

The Australian government's deterrence-driven National Drugs Campaign aims to make drugs less appealing to young people by informing them of the potential negative consequences of drug use.

The link between dose and the risk of death is unpredictable. People who have died from MDMA do not always have very high levels of the drug in their blood.

"In the absence of a better system, people will use the systems that are available," said NDARC researcher and Bluelight administrator Monica Barratt.

"People are using drugs, and the internet is not going away," Dr Barratt said. "We believe we need to change the way we approach drugs and talk about the best ways of dealing with these issues.

"Most people come [to Bluelight] to learn how to use drugs more safely. Members actively disseminate information to warn people of highly dangerous, adulterated drugs."

The site also collaborates with researchers to provide a source of data for monitoring new drugs.

"Often academics use anecdotal [cases] from the forums in their journal articles," Dr Barratt said. "It's the best information we have about how people use drugs."

The posts on Bluelight forums range from dream-like fantasies to time-stamped trip reports described in meticulous detail as authors log the amount of each substance they take, the combination and the way the physical and mental sensations evolve over the trip.

As you scroll through the forum, thread titles read "Is this normal?","Ghosts and stuff", "Interlocking Gods" and simply "Whoa".

There are rules for users; most importantly, users are banned from asking for or offering drugs, and from giving specific details and prices and information on where to buy substances.

"WE ARE NOT HERE TO HELP YOU SCORE DRUGS!" the Bluelight user guidelines read.

Most users adopt pseudonyms. Some use a Tor hidden service to connect anonymously. Harm reduction site Tripsit scrambles IP addresses by default.

Tripsit also offers users live chats with volunteers who will virtually "babysit" individuals through bad trips, offering comfort and support through what is often a frightening and isolating experience.

Bluelight is manned by about 100 volunteers who moderate comments on the forums constantly.

They usually respond within minutes when a user posts a distressing message. But, in the event of an emergency, volunteers are hamstrung by the anonymity.

"That's one of the realities of running a site that lets people use pseudonyms: you can't alert emergency services because you may not know where the person is," Dr Barratt said. "You can ask them, or you can tell them to call an ambulance, but you can't actually get them help."

A journal paper recently accused Bluelight of being a place to procure drugs based on two cases studies.

Several users were offended by the accusation.

"Bluelight goes to great lengths to avoid hosting discussions about drug sources," Dr Barratt said. "Moderators delete all discussions that could be related to sourcing drugs as quickly as they can."

There's still a lot academics, public health providers and drug users themselves don't know about drug use.

The 2016 Global Drug Survey is trying to find out how people use and are affected by myriad substances, and what types of pill testing are available around the world.
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