Pubdate: Sat, 24 Aug 2002
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Alex Taylor
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Raves)
Bookmark: (Youth)


More people are using the potentially deadly drug, and most of the users 
are young people.

While thousands of young partygoers were dancing in a rural nightclub in 
Travis County last weekend, a deadly chemical reaction was occurring in 
22-year-old Jason Scheiring's body.

The Travis County medical examiner's office ruled Friday that Scheiring 
died Sunday after overdosing on four blue pills of Ecstasy. The drugs 
apparently caused Scheiring's heart to beat abnormally, hampering blood 
flow to other organs, deputy medical examiner Elizabeth Peacock said.

Scheiring, a former Army specialist at Fort Hood who lived most recently in 
Corpus Christi, was the second person to die of an Ecstasy overdose this 
year in Travis County, according to the medical examiner's office. Last 
year, the medical examiner's office found traces of the drug in five of the 
595 bodies it autopsied from Travis County.

The drug isn't new, and deaths related to it are rare, but it is generating 
renewed concerns among drug enforcement agencies and law officers. They say 
Ecstasy use is rising, and they are seeing younger users. According to the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 10 percent of high school 
seniors nationwide have taken Ecstasy at least once.

"It's everywhere," said Cmdr. Robert Dahlstrom, head of organized- crime 
investigations for the Austin police. "It's a very popular drug among 
younger kids and young adults, although not as big as pot. We have a huge 
college town with a big entertainment district. So a lot of people are 
selling it, from the preppiest college kids to street dealers. We've got 
big shipments coming into Houston from the Netherlands and Holland."

According to U.S. Customs, Ecstasy seizures at America's borders were 
negligible in 1995. By 1997, 400,000 pills were confiscated. In 1999, 3.4 
million pills were found, and in 2000, the last year for which records have 
been released, 9.3 million pills were confiscated.

The Drug Enforcement Administration considers Dallas to be one of the 
country's major distribution points, along with New York, Los Angeles and 
San Diego.

What It Is

Ecstasy is a central nervous system stimulant also known as MDMA 
(methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). It makes the body feel good, it makes the 
mind think that nothing can go wrong, and it often conjures feelings of 
empathy and closeness -- what psychologists call an entactogen-empathogen.

"It goes throughout your body in the blood system and has a stimulant 
effect, a euphoric effect," said Pat Crocker, chief of emergency medicine 
for Brackenridge Hospital. "It's generally in the same class as other 
amphetamines but has other effects: a heightened sense of feel; it enhances 
the perception of color."

First patented by the German pharmaceutical company Merck in 1913, the drug 
was never widely used or marketed until the 1980s. In 1985, it was listed 
as a Schedule I illegal narcotic, the same classification as heroin, opium 
and cocaine.

The most common form of the drug is a pill, although it may also be bought 
in liquid form or in nickel-sized wafers. The pills are typically about the 
size of an aspirin, and they sell on the street for $10 to $30 a hit. The 
pills are often colorful, decorated with popular logos or designs. Local 
confiscations have turned up pills bearing the Nike swoosh.

Ninety percent of the world's supply of the drug is manufactured in the 
Netherlands, Holland and Belgium, according to a 2001 congressional report. 
Israeli and Russian crime syndicates are responsible for trafficking the 
drug into the United States, the report said.

Ecstasy Culture

What shocks some authorities the most is who is buying the drug, which is 
increasingly found at all-night mass dance parties called raves, such as 
the one Scheiring was attending when he collapsed and died. That night, 
state agents arrested five people on charges of selling Ecstasy outside the 

Of those admitted into U.S. hospitals for Ecstasy-related treatment in 
2000, 80 percent were under 25, according to the Drug Abuse Warning 
Network. Increasingly, Ecstasy users are younger, authorities say.

"I was at one rave recently where you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone over 
20," said Nick Nargi, a narcotics agent here for the Drug Enforcement 

With the fast-paced music and the vigorous dancing that raves are famous 
for, some people quickly overheat. Ecstasy keeps the user from feeling too 
hot or dehydrated, which authorities say can be more dangerous than the 
drug itself.

"The jury is out on how toxic the drug is. The environment you're in when 
you're involved in the rave situation is the problem," said Rod McCutcheon, 
forensic toxicologist for the Travis County medical examiner's office. "A 
large number of people and a lot of dancing, sometimes with the temperature 
inside and activity, people overheat and get dehydrated."

Moderate use of the drug can result in long-term brain damage. Studies by 
the National Institute of Mental Health in 1998 showed that repeated use 
resulted in damage to neurons in the brain that produce serotonin, a 
central brain chemical involved in learning, sleep and the integration of 

"It's one of the few drugs out there that we feel we can say actually does 
cause physical damage to the brain," said Dr. John Keppler, clinical 
director of the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. "There's a lot 
of hyperbole in the world of research, and people are quick to say the sky 
is falling, but unfortunately with this one the sky is falling, especially 
for anyone in the developmental stage, under 21. . . . It's up there, if 
not the most damaging (drug) to the central nervous system and the brain 
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