A party drug that has been growing in popularity in many European countries as a legal alternative to heroin, cocaine and ecstasy is to be banned in the Netherlands from next April because of new evidence that it can lead to heart problems and strokes.
The designer drug, 4-FA, short for 4-fluoroamphetamine, also known as “ecstasy light”, has grown hugely in popularity over the past three years – not because it can be purchased legally on the internet, but because it successfully mimics the euphoric effects of ecstasy.
That popularity is clear from figures revealed by the Dutch department of justice last week, which show that while there were just 80 instances of 4-FA being brought to drug testing laboratories by police in 2013, by 2015 that had increased to 700 – more than 10 per cent of all the drugs tested.
Until now, 4-FA has been regarded as relatively safe because it’s been linked to just one death worldwide, in a case where it was combined with amphetamines, methadone and benzodiazepines, and was not regarded as the primary cause of death.
Users of the drug say it is favoured over “harder” alternatives because it delivers the twin goals of “mood elevation” and increased libido without giving them the feeling of being “out of control” sometimes associated with ecstasy.
However, joint research by two Dutch addiction institutes says the increasing use and scrutiny of 4-FA now shows conclusively that it poses “major health risks”, including brain haemorrhages, strokes, heart malfunctions, and severe headaches.
The institutes said emergency departments had also reported a worrying increase over a short period in the number of people being hospitalised with complaints attributable to 4-FA – and, as a result, it was possible that the drug had been a factor in more deaths than previously realised.
Recommended the ban
So concerned did the Trimbos and Jellinek institutes become, said justice minister Ard van der Steur, that they had delivered their findings early to the government committee which monitors new drugs – and it recommended the ban from April 1st.
“Drugs are never 100 per cent safe, so when there are serious health concerns, governments feel they must act,” said a spokesman for Trimbos. “They make policy on the basis that it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
However, Prof Wim van den Brink of Amsterdam University says he would have taken a different decision – and legalised ecstasy instead.
“If you compare the number of people who use ecstasy with the number who die or get into serious difficulty using it, you see that statistically it’s not very dangerous. So if you legalise it, you don’t need experimental drugs like 4-FA, whose dangers only become clear as they become popular.”