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Warning issued over identical pills containing different drugs in the UK

The Loop found four sets of pills in circulation at Parklife that looked like the same batch, but all were made with different drugs

Drug testing charity The Loop has issued a warning to UK clubbers about identical-looking pills which actually contain different chemical substances.

Scientists testing drugs at this month's Parklife festival in Manchester came across four sets of pills in circulation that looked like they were part of the same batch, but were actually made with various different drugs.

The Loop has warned that this is a problem as people might purchase more pills following a good experience, and end up with something different that could harm them, depending on dosage. 

Professor Fiona Measham, chair of criminology at Liverpool University and the director of The Loop, told Newsbeat that the group "tested some pharaoh pills, almost identical in pressing, but the four different colours were four different contents. Only one contained what people probably wanted, MDMA."

She continued: ""People might buy a pill and have no idea what is in it and have very different experiences. They might try to buy more of a pill after an OK experience and then what they get might have totally different contents."

It's believed that an MDMA shortage in the UK and Europe, caused by a variety of issues including COVID-19 lockdowns and Brexit, may be leading drug dealers to fill pills with other substances that aren't MDMA.

"It's difficult to overstate how much the drug market has changed since lockdown, COVID and Brexit," Measham told Newsbeat. "Partly because of Brexit there is a lack of road haulage and lorry drivers and this has meant for example shortages to milkshakes for McDonald's, and we wouldn't be surprised to see similar disruptions to illegal supply chains."

Measham says that people should test drugs where they can, "and always have a tiny, tiny dose and wait a couple of hours to see the effect before having more". She further underlines, though, that the safest advice is not to take the drugs.

The warning about the pharaoh pills comes amid a number of other recent warnings about other pills, and various drugs, currently in circulation. The Loop put an alert out about blue Tesla-emblazoned pills last month, with two drug-related deaths of young people having happened after being taken ill at clubs in London and Bristol in July. (It's not yet been reported exactly what caused those deaths.)

For more, read DJ Mag's recent feature on why the discussion around drug harm minimisation is more important than ever, here.