I Wanted To Get High – I Didn’t Want To Die

Martha Fernback

I saw a story online yesterday that, given I have a teenage son myself, really struck a chord. Anne-Marie Cockburn, the mother of Oxford schoolgirl Martha Fernback, who died last summer, aged 15, having taken half a gram of MDMA powder, issued a statement following the inquest this week claiming that the criminalisation of drugs was a contributory factor in her daughter’s death, and that the drug education she received in school, rather than helping her make informed decisions, only added to her vulnerability.

Part of the statement called for “a sensible dialogue for change, from prohibition to strict and responsible regulation of recreational drugs”, and suggested that “this will help safeguard our children and lead to a safer society for us all by putting doctors and pharmacists, not dealers, in control of drugs”. The reasoning behind this was that the MDMA Martha had taken was 91% pure, whereas the average purity is 58% – tragically, given its illegality, nobody knew this until after the fact. It’s a similar scenario to heroin addicts, used to low-grade street gear, who all of a sudden get access to a purer batch, miscalculate its potency, and end up overdosing.

Despite all the forlorn political efforts to promote abstinence, young people are still taking drugs in vast numbers, so if that’s the reality, you have to ask what kind of society is it that understands the dangers posed by street drugs, yet refuses to even debate options, other than abstaining, which would clearly help save lives. I know that drugs are an emotive issue, the politicians reluctant to challenge the status quo because anything but an anti-drug stance has traditionally been a vote loser, but to bury your head in the sand and refuse to address this issue from a more humane standpoint, starting from the premise that a great many young people aren’t going to stop taking drugs any time soon, seems increasingly reckless. It’s reasonable to argue that by allowing things to continue as they have been, these politicians are more or less turning their backs on the likes of Martha Fernback, letting them take their chances, when, by regulating drugs, safeguarding the purity, you could greatly negate this risk.

It’s the mark of a special person to suffer such a devastating loss, yet, rather than decrying the drugs that took her daughter’s precious life, understand that this is an aspect of the world in which we live that won’t go away, and if we want to do right by our children, we must protect them first and foremost, and not just by saying ‘no you’re not going to do that’, but ‘if that’s what you are going to do, I want you to be able to do it as safely as possible’.

On the home page of the website, What Martha Did Next, a photo of the teenager, looking directly at us, is overlaid with the words:

“I lived for 5,742 days, 7 hours and 36 minutes. I died on 20th July 2013 at 2.17pm after swallowing half a gram of MDMA powder (more widely known as ecstasy). Making it illegal didn’t protect me. I wanted to get high – I didn’t want to die”.

What Martha Did Next Website:

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11 Responses to I Wanted To Get High – I Didn’t Want To Die

  1. kermit June 13, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    As an ex addict myself I think it’s time for us to be be forward thinking about this drug issue it IS the 21st century and we still have these draconian drug laws .it’s time for us all to speak up and get these laws changed or you maybe the one to lose a loved one.

  2. Jason Dodd June 13, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I agree with every word you say Greg……the problem is that the people in power are as you say too worried that it will cost them votes…there are also not enough deaths statistically to make them act in a proactive way and the most worrying thing in recent years in my opinion ironically is the advent of so called “Legal Highs”….. these are even potentially more dangerous than the other class A drugs, because they are perceived as ok because they are legal and there are more people dying from these substances than the illegal stuff….and as soon as the government ban these new substances such as metherdrone….something new comes along so that the suppliers are always one step ahead of the law….Which means these new substances that haven’t been adequately tested come on to the market making the whole problem progressively worse and worse…….it is time for governments to stop sticking their heads in the sand by simply making these substances illegal…..making drugs illegal only glamourises their potential use and makes young impressionable people more curious as to why they are illegal in the first place….

  3. RaezoR June 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    OK, my personal view as a qualified Nurse BSc is that legalizing drugs would be a double edged sword, if it was not done correctly. I believe ALL drugs should be available at Chemists or state run apothecaries. This way quality would never be an issue, amounts could be controlled, and people could be offered help to cut down or give up drugs altogether. Of course, proper identification would be required, possibly DNA chip/info scanning (available). Without proper control people would buy the drugs to sell to others, and we would be back to square one, but with higher quality drugs. Criminals and organised crime would lose a huge income, and impulse theft to raise cash for drugs slow down. The Police/Courts would save billions. Smoking tobacco has not been banned, but new tighter controls and fewer places to indulge have cut the numbers of smokers. If drugs were readily available, I believe fewer people would indulge. It is crazy that alcohol leads to many deaths in all societies, but very few people have ever died because someone smoked marijuana! What happened to all the Chief Constables in UK that wanted to legalize drugs??? I know that South Yorkshire and a few other wanted it.

  4. Jade June 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Sorry, but I have to disagree- with the principle if not with all the arguments.

    To say something should be legalised because ‘people are going to do it anyway’ is ridiculous.

    I disagree that legalising it would, necessarily, decrease the number of users or the associated problems. With proper regulation, and good quality products, prices would likely increase and many would seek cheaper alternatives- as people do with bootleg cigarettes and alcohol.
    I rather think, actually, that there would likely be a rise in recreational use from people who are curious, but currently deterred by the potential risk even more than the illegality.
    To say it should be distributed by chemists with proof of the receiver’s ID would not prevent people from selling it on- probably cut to reduced strength: what would you suggest- that they have to take it in the presence of the pharmacists as with current prescribed opiate substitutes? And what justification is there to suggest theft in order to get money for drugs would decrease? More availability and higher prices would surely increase such crime?

    While i feel for the grief of this bereaved mother it seems she is seeking to blame someone other than her irresponsible daughter for the tragedy. Anyone willing to risk their life for a short term high is beyond reckless.

  5. Anna June 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    At 15 you shouldn’t be doing MDMA…

  6. JD June 14, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    Jade: A 15 year old can hardly be considered irresponsible for acting in ways that are age appropriate. I think you forgot what it means to be an adolescent. Conscientiousness, that is, well thought out decisions are not the norm for this age. Where is your compassion? It seems you are the one doing the blaming. While your arguments are compelling and perhaps even valid, to blame the victim is, well, downright cruel.

  7. Tara June 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Jade, you’ve never done anything reckless? With the amount of road traffic deaths, we all risk our life every time we get into a car. At that age it’s all about experience and experimenting, we thought we were invincible. That’s what adolescence is about.
    Anna, and what age is okay? What age were you when you first had a drink? I’m guessing it wasn’t the legal age.
    I don’t understand how you can be so judgemental about a poor girl who lost her life.

  8. impossiblykaty June 16, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    “To say something should be legalised because ‘people are going to do it anyway’ is ridiculous.”

    Its anything BUT ridiculous! A lot of people in their late teens and 20’s ARE going to try MDMA…. its just a fact. why should they become a victim because of things the drugs are mixed with (eg PMA, the death of that person at warehouse project in manchester) when legalising would effectively stop this from happening overnight.

    at the end of the day the amount of people who die from taking purely ecstasy is very very low. Prof David Nutt categorised it as not dangerous. less dangerous than alcohol.

    If supply was closely regulated but also accessible at least people getting their drugs would know its strength and that it wasnt cut with dangerous and potentially life threatening other substances. The fact remains that people are going to do it regardless. People should be able to have the confidence what they take is of a standard strength so they don’t overdo it. Then when they’ve had their fun and get older they won’t do it as much if at all anymore.

    i think if this was the case most people wouldnt risk going for cheaper alternatives (bootlegs), they’d just get a small amount of the real thing.

  9. Ashley Brancker June 16, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    Sorry the above was my posting… not the person who’s name it comes under (oops)

  10. Paul Wright June 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Having heard Martha’s mum talking on the radio last week, it’s difficult to imagine the feelings of loss and hurt. I have the utmost respect and admiration in what is a real testament to her strength of character in such terrible circumstances. Often emotions run wild in these situations, partly due to the sensationalism deployed in the mass media and regularly exploited by so called political leaders to continue a feed of misinformation to the general public. Anne-Marie’s perspective provides a striking lesson in realism.

    Wherever and whenever people have existed they have used many different substances; the reasons vary such as pleasure, creativity, spirituality, mood enhancement, pain relief, dependence, treating illness. The setting and context in using different substances also varies massively.

    We are currently living in a period of forced and irrational prohibition. The drug laws here are unfounded, disproportionate, based on control and mass hysteria rather than logical factual evidence. Recent generations have been spoon-fed and conditioned to believe that many of the illegal substances are intrinsically bad and unsafe. This flies in the face of the experiences of 100,000s people in the UK and millions worldwide, also supported by rigorous and independent scientific study:



    All substances have the potential to do harm though I completely agree that Martha’s plight may have been avoided with improved information, education and access to substances of known potency and purity. When people are actually informed on a situation based on facts rather than scare mongering they are more likely to make better informed decisions. To continue to bury heads in the sand, believing and peddling lies that certain substances should be out of bounds is irresponsible. It is the responsibility of our alleged leaders and the wider society as a whole to acknowledge and address the reality of the situation.

    Alexander Shulgin the first person to synthesize MDMA died earlier this month and it was interesting to hear some of his thoughts on the substance. The drug has an incredible potential to do good, it allows people to access what is sometimes inaccessible to them. Under the influence people are more open to communicate and can approach things that otherwise may be locked away.

    Recently I heard that the government is considering licensing legal highs, the shear number of compounds that can potentially hit the market is literally mind boggling. For each of the compounds found in the brain, ~200 there is a potential to produce 1000 analogues (similar in structure and effect); 200,000 new drugs of unknown safety, purity, potency, effects and long-term damage, not a good prospect. There is now a constant stream of these drugs on sale to the public, again this is hugely irresponsible and doing people a great disservice. The reason they are considering licensing is because of the realisation that as they ban a substance a more toxic replacement soon follows. There are compounds far more dangerous and potent than many illegal drugs and readily available to the general public. To follow their own reasoning I think it’s time to re-visit the drugs classification laws based on fact and experience, doing what is best for society as a whole.

  11. George September 30, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    The problem with the law can be summarized with this bit of internet humor.

    “Irony of life: The lawyer hopes you get in trouble, the doctor hopes you get sick, the police hopes you become a criminal, the teacher hopes you are born stupid, the pilot hopes you fly, the landlord hopes that you don’t buy a house, the dentist hopes that your teeth decays, the mechanic/engineer hopes that your car breaks down, the coffin maker wants you dead. Only a thief wishes you prosperity in life.”

    Politicians are not excluded from this irony, they stand nothing to gain from you making your own decisions.

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