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Prostitutes hooked on ecstasy - Jamaican sex workers abusing party drug as coping mechanism

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2011 | 12:00 AM
An unidentified Afghan prostitute woman looks out from a window in her Madame's house in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, May 26, 2008. Afghanistan is one of the world's most conservative countries, yet its sex trade appears to be thriving.- AP
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Simmering beneath the surface of Jamaica's illicit sex trade are melancholy tales of drug abuse as local sex workers have turned to ecstasy - the party drug - to cope with the physical and psychological rigours of the age-old profession.

A retired prostitute who hung up her fishnet stockings and stilettos in April this year told our news team that some 'night nurses' who work along Port Henderson Road in Portmore, St Catherine, use the party drug known on the street as 'X' to alter their persona.

"Some of the girls take ecstasy to increase their sex drive (and) to make them feel different," said Marie Bernadette.

She added: "When I leave my home I am me, but when I touch there I'm somebody different; we change, that's what we do."

The use of ecstasy by prostitutes compounds Jamaica's 'new' drug problem as earlier this year a Sunday Gleaner exclusive revealed that a shortage of medication containing pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in many cold and flu medicines sold in Jamaica, is being linked to the illegal manufacturing and sale of methamphetamine (commonly called meth).

stimulant

It is a powerful stimulant that alters the functions of the central nervous system, and pseudoephedrine, it is believed, is being used to 'cook' the hard drug meth.

Several pharmacies checked by The Sunday Gleaner at the time were out of stock of pseudoephedrine because Jamaica has reportedly already used up all its supplies under limits imposed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In that article published in early May, Valerie Germain, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica, said she had determined that there was a shortage of some drugs containing the stimulant.

When contacted on Friday, Dr Ellen Campbell Grizzle, director of information and research at the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), told our news team that the agency has received reports of the ecstasy abuse among sex workers. "The prevention strategy has been rolled out because we are aware of the reports that it is being used in that commercial sex niche market," she said.

Campbell Grizzle added that the NCDA only has anecdotal evidence on the abuse of the party drug, which is currently classified as an emerging problem. "We are monitoring it (because) every epidemic starts on a small scale until it expands," she said.

Campbell Grizzle explained that ecstasy is a 'cousin' to the drug known as methamphetamine, because both of them are from the amphetamine class and both drugs have pseudo ephedrine as a precursor.

Ecstasy usually takes the form of a small tablet "but it packs a whack," said Campbell Grizzle.

"It is a drug that makes you feel close to everybody and your guard comes down," she added.

Meanwhile, Bernadette also pointed out that some of her former colleagues have also resorted to strange concoctions that include energy drinks and other uppers just to make it through their nightly 'ordeal'.

"Sometimes when I drink the red bull and horse tonic it keeps me up all night into the daylight," she said.

According to Bernadette, the emotional and psychological pressures associated with prostitution are oft unbearable, and pushes many of the sex workers to find coping mechanisms.

"There comes a point when you feel like you are nobody and you are angry but you got your kids and you have to eat," she said.

It is also a heart-wrenching exercise. "I will cry because I don't want to be on the street," she confessed while admitting a few pleasures. "There are times that I do enjoy it after all that weed smoking and liquor drinking. But majority of the times, I don't. I can't wait for it to be over. I count the minutes in my mind," said Bernadette as she flipped through pages of painful memories.

The physical demands of prostitution also take a toll on the body. Some nights, the prostitutes on the Portmore strip also known as 'Back Road' have to deal with two or more clients simultaneously. "Sometimes we have people - like a husband and a wife - come and want threesome," she said.

A threesome can cost anywhere between $7,000 and $10,000 and it usually lasts about an hour, or half that time, Bernadette explained.

Now that Bernadette is out of the sex game, she harbours no longing to return to the street. "I don't miss it. I'm glad I left it. I am not going back. I pray to God that I don't. I can't say I won't because in life you don't know what will happen," she said.

In March this year, United States-based CBS News revealed that a recent government study highlighted the dangers of ecstasy. According to the article posted on its website, the audit revealed that "more and more partygoers are ending up in the ER".

"The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a report on Thursday that says medical emergencies related to the illicit drug ecstasy jumped almost 75 per cent between 2004 and 2008," read a section of the CBS News report.

Ecstasy use can produce psychedelic and stimulant side effects such as anxiety attacks, tachycardia, hypertension and hyperthermia. Addiction, high blood pressure, heat stroke and kidney failure are also linked to ecstasy use, according to the study.

Name changed to protect identity.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com