Pubdate: Wed, 28 Feb 2001
Source: Athens Daily News (GA)
Copyright: 2001 Athens Newspapers Inc.
Address: PO Box 912, Athens, GA 30603
Fax: 706-208-2246
Author: Stephen Gurr
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


The so-called "designer drug" that may have contributed to the death of an 
18-year-old Athens Tech student last weekend is nothing new in town, and 
rarely is it fatal.

Chris Allen died early Saturday at St. Mary's Hospital after going into 
seizures at an Athens nightclub. Friends told police Allen ingested a 
lethal cocktail of speed, alcohol and Ecstacy, which he allegedly bought 
from another patron at Athens Music Factory, an East Clayton Street bar.

Ecstacy, a synthetic drug which also goes by the name MDMA, has been around 
since the flower-power heyday of psychedelia, but its popularity has 
skyrocketed in recent years among the dance club youth culture.

Made popular in "raves" -- late-night dances featuring driving techno music 
and swirling lights -- ecstacy use is on the rise, experts agree.

"It seems to be increasing in popularity, especially among high school and 
college-age kids," said Carla Higdon, director of community relations for 
the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. "It seems to be 
more readily available."

Higdon's Sarasota, Fla., non-profit group advocates government research 
into the potentially therapeutic benefits and health risks of substances 
like MDMA and LSD. She said taken in pure form, Ecstasy is not lethal. But 
when black market producers dilute the drug with methamphetamine or 
dextromethorphan, users may experience dangerously high heart rates and 
core body temperatures.

With MDMA, like its illicit, synthetic cousins, "There's a tremendous 
incentive for black market production, and the content is not regulated in 
any way," Higdon said.

While local police have made a few Ecstacy busts, most notably during the 
rock band Widespread Panic's three-day stand at the Classic Center last 
April, MDMA isn't a top priority in drug enforcement operations.

Athens-Clarke police say they have their hands full enough trying to keep 
the crack cocaine market under control.

"(Ecstacy's) not our most problematic drug," said Sgt. Mike Hunsinger, 
commander of the Athens-Clarke Drug and Vice Unit. "You don't see that many 
people involved in Ecstacy and LSD committing other crimes to support their 

With crack addicts, you do, so that's where most of the drug-fighting 
resources go, Hunsinger said.

Also, it's difficult for undercover officers to infiltrate a youth-oriented 
drug culture, Hunsinger said. And Ecstacy is taken and sold in dimly lit 
clubs or at parties, not in back alleys or street corners.

"A lot of traditional enforcement techniques are ineffective, especially in 
a closed-in arena," Hunsinger said. "It's a pretty tight clique."

Hunsinger said police were investigating the reports that Allen bought 
Ecstacy at Athens Music Factory, and had developed leads on who sold it.

The venue's management did not return messages seeking comment. Hunsinger 
said that Athens Music Factory wasn't the only downtown bar where Ecstacy 
sales have been reported.

"In the past year, it's been on the upswing," he said.
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