Pubdate: Sun, 10 Dec 2000
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Author: Fernanda Santos
Cited: DanceSafe


Those tempted to try the drug Ecstasy face a threat they may be unaware of:
It may not be Ecstasy.

The popularity of Ecstasy among teens has attracted predatory drug dealers
who increase their profits by selling counterfeit pills packing even more
dangerous chemicals.

Knockoff versions of the drug have been blamed for at least nine deaths in
the United States so far this year, officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration said. In Florida, six teens died after dropping an Ecstasy
copycat made of PMA, or paramethoxyamphetamine, a highly toxic
hallucinogenic that causes euphoria, but can fatally increase blood
pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

Ketamine and DMX are other drugs sold as Ecstasy. An animal tranquilizer,
ketamine slows down the perception of time and has powerful hallucinogenic
properties. Also a hallucinogenic, DMX, or dextromethorphan, inhibits
sweating and can easily causes heat stroke.

"Everybody tries to manipulate and make a buck in the drug world," said
Kevin J. Stanton, deputy director of the Governor's Alliance Against Drugs.
"There have been reports of kids actually ingesting cocaine and heroin cut
and tableted in the form of Ecstasy."

To prevent users from embarking on a bad trip, a young Californian founded
last year a group called DanceSafe, which offers free pill testing services
in nightclubs and all-night rave parties.

At a rave party in Haverhill three weeks ago, DanceSafe volunteers tested
two pills. Both tested positive as Ecstasy, said 23-year-old Selma C.
Holden, treasurer of DanceSafe's Massachusetts chapter.

"Our first service is peer counseling," said Ms. Holden. "If you take
someone in a uniform to talk to a 15-year-old about the risks of drug use,
these teens will likely ignore the information or just pretend they're
listening when they're not. But if someone who looks like them is the one
talking about it, chances are the message will get across."

Headquartered in Oakland, Calif., and with 13 local chapters nationwide,
DanceSafe survives from private donations. Among its supporters is Microsoft
executive Bob Wallace, who has donated $70,000 to the group.

DanceSafe volunteers who staff the organization's booths at parties also
provide information on other drugs and safe sex, but pill testing is by far
the group's most popular service. The tests are performed by putting a drop
of a liquid reagent onto powder scrapped from a pill. The pill is then
handed back to the user.

"Forty to 50 percent of the teen-agers who find out through our tests that
they bought a counterfeit pill don't take it," Ms. Holden said. "If we
weren't there (at the party), they would be taking these pills and would
probably get sick or die."

DanceSafe has drawn fire from drug enforcement officials, who say the
group's on-site pill testing is unreliable, inconclusive and misleading.

John Gartland, special agent in charge of DEA's operations in New England,
said he's "really concerned" about the false sense of security that
DanceSafe brings, given the dangers of Ecstasy itself.

"The message they deliver by having the word 'safe' in their title is a
false one," he said.
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