Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2001
Source: The Metro Times (MI)
Copyright: 2001 Metro Times, Inc
Address: 733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226
Author: Larry Gabriel
Note: Larry Gabriel is the editor of the Metro Times.


Trying To Make Sense Of Ecstasy

There's a lot of talk about Ecstasy these days. That's
3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, or MDMA, the drug that in most
users triggers the "rapturous delight" that so entices them, and so
frightens parents and law-enforcement officials.

 From fairly benign takes in the New York Times Magazine and Rolling
Stone to a long, mostly knee-jerk report in the Detroit Free Press,
Ecstasy has been making the journalistic rounds.

There was a first of its kind "State of Ecstasy" conference in San
Francisco in February, drawing users, therapists and law-enforcement
officials. During that same month in Seattle, an Academy of Forensic
Sciences convention spent a day discussing Ecstasy. Let's just say
that the pill is on the tips of a lot of tongues these days -- of both
users and haters.

A recent World Health Organization report said that drug use has
generally held steady or declined in recent years, except for rising
use of Ecstasy among young people. The newest recreational drug of
choice creates a euphoria in the user and an empathy for others; it
enhances physical sensations and brings an introspective sense of well-being.

Physically, the drug causes a feeling of euphoria by triggering a
flood of serotonin and dopamine -- naturally occurring substances in
the brain. The main downside is that with natural serotonin depleted,
the user may experience depression afterward. It takes about a week
for seratonin levels to return to normal, so regular users can end up
taking more and more while getting less and less high. The other
problem is that, especially on the dance-club scene, a user can become
dehydrated -- or their body temperature can rise. Hence the expensive
bottled water ever-present at places where people are likely to take

People feeling good about themselves and others. Dancing the night
away. Don't do it too often and make sure you drink water. These seem
to be rather benign effects.

Oh, yeah -- and it can kill you.

Sherry Goodson, a 21-year-old Sterling Heights mother, took two
Ecstasy tablets while celebrating New Year's Eve at Motor nightclub in
Hamtramck. Around midnight, just as 2001 was rolling in, Goodson began
convulsing and went into a coma. A few days later she was pronounced
dead. Her boyfriend was charged with possession and distribution for
giving her the pills.

Goodson's is one of a relatively small, though growing, number of
deaths attributed to Ecstasy. That Sherry Goodson died is tragic, an
example of the possible terrible consequences of drugs. Fair enough --
except that authorities have been telling people not to take drugs for
decades and people continue to take drugs. Lots of them. To the tune
of billions of dollars in profits for the drug traffickers.

"Why aren't young people listening? I blame the media which
overexaggerates the risk so that no one will believe what the risks of
Ecstasy are," said Stephen Kish, of the Centre for Addiction and
Mental Health in Toronto. "The other problem is that science isn't
clear about the long-term effects of Ecstasy. We don't know. Science
is not clear yet, and the media will take a 20-second sound bite to
overstate the danger of Ecstasy, and when that happens young people
don't believe it."

Prohibition follies Throughout history, people have always figured out
a way to get themselves a buzz. As Mark Greer, executive director of
DrugSense (, an organization focused on providing
accurate information on drug policy, says, "Prohibition of anything
has never been effective in the history of man."

And when you look at the harm of the drug war, from the recent deaths
of a mother and child whose plane was shot down over Peru, to the
Detroit police officer killed in a drug raid, to the billions of
dollars spent in this wasted cause and the number of otherwise
peaceful citizens jailed, it gives you pause.

Now Ecstasy has been targeted, tossed into the same class with heroin
and cocaine, with ever-stiffening penalties for sale and possession.
We're going down the same road with Ecstasy as with marijuana. And
that is exactly where the drug war loses young people.

The lies and overstatements are so transparent that young people begin
to doubt everything they hear about drugs from adults. Not that their
peers are better informed. But they see friends taking drugs with no
apparent ill effects. The kid in English class doesn't seem the
depraved monster they've been told drug users are. And it's all
downhill from there as far as believing the grown-ups.

Ecstacy -- like marijuana -- is simply not in the same class as
cocaine and heroin.

Then you point to the deaths caused by Ecstasy and say it kills. And
that is sadly true. Yet, as Simon Reynolds wrote in his 1999 book,
Generation Ecstasy, "Statistically, you're more at risk driving to the
rave than being on E at the rave."

Increasing penalties and driving it further underground creates more
problems than it solves. The drug is produced in illicit labs with no
standard purity or dosage guaranteed; lots of pills being pushed as
Ecstasy are not. And the zero-tolerance mentality only tells people
not to take drugs, not what to do when drugs are taken.

But there seems to be a growing space for a drug dialogue without
everyone blowing an emotional fuse. A growing number of people -- even
politicians -- are arguing for drug policies that focus more on
treatment and education rather than criminalizing people for drug use.
Which is where organizations such as DrugSense and DanceSafe come in.

DanceSafe ( volunteers agree that there are no safe
drugs, but there are ways to reduce the danger.

"We go to places where people are likely to use drugs and give
information so that they can make better decisions about their
lifestyle," says Doris Payer, a volunteer with the Detroit  of the organization. "So they can know what
they are doing and hopefully act a little more safely."

DanceSafe also sells drug-testing equipment, and members sometimes set
up tables at dance clubs and parties for drug testing so that people
who think they are taking Ecstasy can be sure that they are.

"It takes about five seconds to test a pill," Payer says. "It's
really, really quick."

Payer says that at one event three-quarters of the pills they tested
were not Ecstasy. Talk about a recipe for trouble.

Soul searching OK, so you say that they shouldn't have been taking
drugs in the first place. True. But telling people not to take drugs
is like telling teenage boys not to drive fast. It's an often futile

Is decriminalization or legalization the way to go? The same WHO
report that pointed to a rise in Ecstasy use also showed that the
percentage of drug users in the United States is higher than in Europe
- -- where several countries have more lenient policies. Maybe a little
soul-searching in America about why people feel the need to take drugs
would be useful.

Might a different policy have saved Sherry Goodson? Maybe not. But
then, maybe regulated Ecstasy would have a standard dosage. Maybe more
user education would have steered her away from either the first pill
she took that night -- or away from the second pill that killed her.

Maybe a different policy would have saved her. Maybe not. But in the
bigger picture, there are definitely more people being harmed by drug
war policies than are being harmed by drugs.
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