Parliamentary question by Olivier Dupuis (TDI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Byrne on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Olivier Dupuis (TDI) to the Commission
(13 July 2000)

Subject: Measures for monitoring the quality of Ecstasy

French Minister Jack Lang has proposed setting up, during events and gatherings for young people at which it is probable that Ecstasy-taking will be widespread, an aid service which would be able, through tests, to check the "safety" of the pills distributed, in order to identify pills "cut" with highly toxic substances and avoid exposing those who use Ecstasy on such occasions to fatal risks.

As a matter of principle, how does the Commission view this proposal? What consumer protection measures does the Commission consider could be taken, in view of the principle of the consumer's right to accurate information? Does the Commission not believe that it is the very criminalisation of the consumption of certain substances that, by driving their production and marketing underground, encourages products to appear on the market which are utterly devoid of quality standards of any sort? Does the Commission not believe that failing to apply the most basic quality criteria to a whole class of substances is difficult to reconcile with the responsibility that the Community sets out, in Article 153, regarding consumer health protection?

Answer given by Mr Byrne
on behalf of the Commission
(26 September 2000)

First, it should be stressed that "safety tests" as mentioned of "ecstasy" as well as similar illegal drugs fall within the competence of the Member States, and that the Commission is not involved in the implementation of such measures. The reference to Article 153 (ex Article 129a) of the EC Treaty is not applicable here since this article is not intended to cover illegal substances.

The Community action plan on drugs (2000-2004)(1) encourages the Member States and the Commission to develop innovative approaches to the prevention of the abuse of synthetic drugs, taking into account the specificities of synthetic drug users. On-site testing of "ecstasy" may form a part of this preventive approach provided that it is allowed by the legislation of the Member States.

According to the draft 2000 annual report on the state of the drugs problem in the Community produced by the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (EMCDDA), on-the-spot pill testing has been implemented in different forms in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria. In some Member States pill testing operates in a legal "grey area", since collecting, analysing and storing illegal drugs, even for test purposes, is a violation of the law. On the other hand, a Berlin court ruled that the handling of narcotics during a drug test was not punishable, and in Austria pill testing is being performed under a research project. In the Netherlands, criteria for good testing practice have been developed, clearly distinguishing the monitoring from the harm-reduction function.

The EMCDDA has commissioned a study on on-site pill-testing interventions in the Community. This research will draw up an inventory of existing on-site pill-testing programmes and examine their objectives, target groups, methods and pitfalls. The ultimate goal of the projects is to assess how prevention and harm-reduction measures can be tied in with pill-testing work. The results of the study are expected this autumn.