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Why More Young Women Are Dying From Ecstasy In The UK

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Ecstasy-related deaths among young women are a growing problem in the UK. The death rate is far higher than for men, despite the fact that twice as many men than women take the drug, and our biology could be to blame, according to an investigation by The Guardian.

At least 10 young women in the UK have died from taking the drug so far this year, compared to four last year.

Although ecstasy-related deaths remain rare considering that half a million people in the UK take it every weekend, reported The Guardian, the number of people dying has quadrupled in the last five years.

And in the last two to three years, young women under 21 were two to three times more likely than men to seek medical treatment as a result, Adam R Winstock, director of the Global Drugs Survey, told The Guardian.

Part of the reason why women are at risk from ecstasy is down to social factors, he said. "Women are much less likely to buy their own drugs so they perhaps don't know what they're taking, or they're taking pills or powders given to them on trust from men they may or may not know."

He also said males and females respond to ecstasy differently because of their biology. "Women are much more likely to end up in emergency medical treatment than men, at least two to threefold," he said, and women present with different medical problems in hospital.

However, this isn't because of young women's lighter body weight, he added. So why are we more susceptible to ecstasy, if not because of our body weight? Winstock says the answer could be our hormones.

Ecstasy is dangerous because it makes your body hold on to water, which could lead to hyponatremia, or overhydration, which can be dangerous if the excess water in your system leads to cell swelling and brain damage.

Our cells have pumps which can reduce this swelling, but oestrogen makes them work less well, The Guardian reported. This means women are more likely than men to suffer problems from hyponatremia.

The strength of pills, which has never been higher, is also to blame for ecstasy-related deaths. Because pills contain more MDMA today than they used to, too much of it can hit the brain at once, and this puts people at risk of dehydration and overheating, said Winstock.

Ultimately, needless deaths such as Stephanie Shevlin's, will continue until politicians start to consider drug safety, rather than just lecturing young people about the dangers of using them, Winstock said.

"I think the barrier is it's not enough of an important political issue that's going to either win or lose an election," he added.
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