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8 January 2015, 07:47 | Updated: 8 January 2015, 07:52
A drugs policy expert has criticised the Government for failing to heed warnings about pills which have been linked to the deaths of three men in Suffolk.
Dr Caroline Chatwin, a criminologist from the University of Kent, said government agencies had not made public information on the dangers of the triangular-shaped pills, which are similar to ecstasy and bear a Superman logo, and had undermined their commitment to policies which claim to reduce harm through prohibition.
The pills are believed to be linked to the deaths of two men in Ipswich, Suffolk, on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, a third man in Rendlesham, and a fourth in Telford, Shropshire.
Ms Chatwin's claims came as tests by Suffolk Police found that the pills contained the dangerous ingredient PMMA.
She said: "The tragedy of the deaths of four young men over Christmas, which has been linked to pink Superman ecstasy pills, has been well reported in the media and has prompted the police to take the unprecedented move of declaring an ''amnesty`` on these pills.
"Yet on December 19, five days before the first UK death, the Trimbos Institute, a centre of expertise on mental health and addiction based in Utrecht in the Netherlands, issued its highest alert possible on these same pink Superman pills after testing them and finding that they contained deadly PMMA.''
She says the information was not acted on by the Government and only picked up by a few user and harm reduction-based internet research sites such as pillreports.net, ukchemicalresearch.org and the Loop - a substance outreach organisation that has been involved in the provision of pill testing at the Warehouse project in Manchester.
She said: ``Although the connection between these recent deaths and a drug policy that is illogical and punitive, and which encourages the development of more toxic substances by cracking down on illegal drugs like MDMA, has been noted, few have picked up on the fact that detailed information on the harms of these pills was available in the week leading up to the deaths in the UK.
"The publication of the Dutch information on user-based internet sites provides an excellent example of harm reduction in action - something that ought to be organised and implemented by the Government and official drug services with their sophisticated European networks for sharing information on drugs.
"The failure on the part of the UK government to make public this knowledge means that they must take some responsibility for the events that unfolded, and seriously undermines their commitment to policies which reduce the harms caused by prohibition.''
Just two days ago, Dr David Nutt, a former government drugs adviser who was sacked in 2009 after criticising its decision to toughen the law on cannabis, said current policy had targeted the production and sale of MDMA only to see it substituted by a more toxic substance.
Writing for The Guardian newspaper, he said that PMMA and its close relative PMA had been responsible for the majority of deaths, amounting to more than 100, attributed to ecstasy by the media in recent years.
He said: "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called 'success' in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block.''