Pubdate: Sun, 30 Mar 2003
Source: North County Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 North County Times
Author: Kenneth Ma
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


John reached a defining moment in his young life inside a warehouse
filled with flashing lights, techno music and partygoers he didn't

Earlier that evening, the North County teen had swallowed an Ecstasy
tablet when he attended a Los Angeles rave, or all-night dance party.
It wasn't long before the drug raised the levels of serotonin in his
blood, making him feel euphoric. The drug-induced elation caused him
to hug other people and dance near the speakers to absorb the music.

He eventually reached a self-described state of nirvana.

"I felt I was God," the 16-year-old said. "I was at peace. I felt like
anything was possible."

Reaching this state of mind came at a price, however. After four hours
of stimulation, John began a downward spiral.

"All of a sudden your emotions come crashing down on you," said John,
a sophomore at a North County alternative high school. "After two
hours, I felt suicidal. I felt I had no place in the world."

Ecstasy has been a growing problem among teens and young adults since
mass quantities of it were smuggled into the United States from Europe
in the early 1990s, authorities said. Over the last several years, the
number of young users has increased dramatically.

In 2001, 3.9 million people between the ages of 18 and 25 admitted
they have tried Ecstasy at least once in their lifetime, according to
a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Association. In 2000, 2.8 million in the same age group said they
tried Ecstasy at least once, statistics show.

About 746,000 people in the 12-to-17 age group in 2001 said they tried
the drug at least once in their lifetime according to the association,
which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2000, 615,000 people in the same age group admitted trying Ecstasy
at least once.

Statistics on Ecstasy use or arrests involving Ecstasy in San Diego
County are not kept by health and law enforcement agencies, but
despite the lack of data, authorities say the drug is a growing problem.

"It is a bigger problem than it was a few years ago," said San Diego
police Lt. Carl Black, who is a member of the San Diego County
Narcotics Task Force. "It is more popular among high school students
than everything else, other than marijuana."

Because Ecstasy is the newest drug to hit the region, more teens are
interested in experimenting with it, said Marsha, a North County freshman.

The drug is largely sold at nightclubs and at raves, which are parties
marketed to teens as nonalcoholic events, Black said. Eventually the
subculture of music, Ecstasy and partying made the drug popular and
readily available to teens everywhere, even on high school campuses.

"I think anyone who wants to find these drugs can," said Dana Stevens,
director of the North Inland Community Prevention Program. "It has
been more mainstream over the last five years. I don't think it is
going away."

Instead of going away, the drug has sent a growing number of people to
the emergency room. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of
Ecstasy-related emergency room visits in San Diego County increased
from 14 to 51, said John Redman, co-chairman of the county Club Drug
Task Force.

"I am very alarmed by the numbers," said Redman. "The kids that are
taking it are unaware of the dangers."

Besides side effects from the drug itself, another danger is that the
pill may not actually be Ecstasy, say law officials. As demand
increases, so have the number of "fakes" for Ecstasy that may instead
contain part or all amphetamine, caffeine, codeine, dxm,
ephedra/ephedrine, ketamine, MDA, methamphetamine and PCP.

Popular Pill

Ecstasy's chemical name is methlyenedioxymethylamphetamine, or MDMA. A
majority of the tablets, which come in different colors, are produced
in the Netherlands and Belgium, but some are made in clandestine labs
in the United States.

Since Ecstasy is much harder to manufacture than methamphetamine,
makeshift labs are not as common, authorities said. Each pill costs as
little as a quarter to produce but sells on the street for $20 to $25.

Generally, users of this highly addictive drug feel euphoric and
become extremely sociable. In some cases, however, their heartbeat,
blood pressure and body temperature rise, causing them to sweat
profusely. The central nervous system becomes overstimulated, and
their teeth may start grinding uncontrollably.

These side effects are at times serious enough to warrant a trip to
the hospital; at other times, even for a first-time user, they can be
fatal, Black said. Depending on their body chemistry, some people
escape the side effects, he said, but Ecstasy will always impair one's
ability to drive.

The danger is masked by the drug, which looks like an aspirin and can
be easily ingested, sheriff's Deputy Dustin Lopez said.

"What makes it popular with kids is that it is easy to take," he

Some users believe taking Ecstasy is like taking a prescription
medication, so they downplay the dangers, Lopez said. Drugs like
heroin are seen as being more dangerous because it's injected into the

Ecstasy's use at raves and nightclubs also make it more acceptable to
teens, he said.

"A lot of these kids who go to these things don't consider themselves
drug users," Lopez said. "They see themselves as recreational drug

John, who said he only used the drug once, said peer pressure and
escaping from problems are reasons that teens use Ecstasy.

"Every time they do it, it makes them feel better," he

Education And Enforcement

Detecting the use of Ecstasy is difficult for police because the pill
is small and easily concealed. Also, it's difficult for undercover
detectives to make arrests at raves because dealers can escape through
the crowd, authorities said.

"It is difficult to penetrate clubs and raves," Lopez said, of efforts
by undercover agents. "It is just a younger type of crowd."

But local law agencies have been making progress over the

In 2000, sheriff's deputies arrested 19 people and closed Club Velvet
at the Del Mar Fairgrounds after the club and its patrons were accused
of dealing and using Ecstasy. In 2001, nearly 1,000 Ecstasy pills were
seized from a car stopped at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near
the San Diego and Riverside county line.

One of the biggest Ecstasy operations occurred in October 2001, when
Drug Enforcement Administration officials raided an Escondido lab that
was capable of producing 1 million to 1.5 million tablets a month,
worth more than $20 million.

Strengthening The Law

Officials are also trying to crack down on Ecstasy by strengthening
the law. Assemblywoman Pat Bates, R-Oceanside, introduced AB 57 to ban
the drug's use by changing its legal classification. The bill cleared
the Assembly Public Safety Committee 7-0 last month, but could
encounter opposition when it reaches the Senate Public Safety
Committee. The committee killed a similar bill by Bates last year.

Opponents contend that passing the bill could clog an already
overburdened prison system by increasing the number of people
imprisoned for what are relatively minor offenses.

The bill must pass both houses before it can be signed into law by
Gov. Gray Davis.

Besides beefing up laws, education must go hand-in-hand with
enforcement, school officials and community activists said.

Peggy Lynch, superintendent of the San Dieguito High School District,
said having teachers discuss drug use in the classroom and encouraging
students to discuss the topic with their parents are good preventive

Stevens said schools should bring in speakers such as emergency-room
nurses who have firsthand knowledge about drug overdoses.
Parent-teacher associations, she said, should also get involved in
educating students about the dangers of Ecstasy.

Marsha, the North County freshman, said teaching teens ways to make
better choices is the only way to prevent them from using Ecstasy.

For some teens like John, experiencing the drug's horrible side
effects and seeing his friends suffer from it were enough to persuade
him never to use it again.

"The next week, I was at another rave, and a friend passed out because
he was dehydrated after using Ecstasy. He was rushed to the hospital
for treatment," John said. "I was scared. I realized then it was a lot
more life-threatening than I thought."



MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), also referred to as
Ecstasy, XTC, Adam, and Essence, is an illegally manufactured
variation of mescaline and amphetamine. MDMA is taken orally, usually
in tablet or capsule form. MDMA tablets are often "stamped" with icons
or logos. Its effects last approximately four to six hours.

Short Term Effects: increased heart rate, blood pressure and body
temperature; jaw and teeth clenching/muscle tension, hypertension,
dehydration, chills and/or sweating, nausea, blurred vision, faintness,
dizziness, confusion, insomnia, paranoia

Long Term Use: depression, sleep disorders, drug craving, persistent
elevation of anxiety, paranoia, aggressive and impulsive behavior, rash

Medical Complications: muscle breakdown, hyperthermia, kidney failure,
cardiovascular system failure long term: liver damage, brain damage,
paralysis, and possible others.

Notice: Drinking too much water after taking MDMA can be lethal. After
taking MDMA, the blood contains unusually high concentrations of
vasopressin. As levels of this hormone increase, the body retains more
water--diluting the sodium and other salts in the blood. This can swell the
brain causing damage to the brain and nerve tissue.

Research links MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the
brain critical to thought and memory. One study, in primates, showed
that exposure to MDMA for 4 days caused brain damage that was evident
6 to 7 years later. MDA, the parent drug of MDMA, is an
amphetamine-like drug that has also been abused and is similar in
chemical structure to MDMA. Research shows that MDA also destroys
serotonin-producing neurons in the brain.

MDMA also is related in its structure and effects to methamphetamine,
which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the
neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying
cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms
of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and can
eventually result in a form of paralysis.

Source: D.A.R.E.,, NIDA Infofacts, "MDMA (Ecstasy)"

In the News:

4.3% of eighth graders, 6.6% of tenth graders, and 10.5% of twelfth graders
reported using MDMA at least once during their lifetimes. - Source: 2002
Monitoring the Future Study

More teens in 2002 than in 2001 felt there is a "great risk" in trying
Ecstasy once or twice and also in using the drug regularly. There were also
significant and dramatic increases in teens' perceptions of specific risks
of Ecstasy use. - Source: Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, 2002
(Partnership for a Drug-Free America)

In 2001, MDMA use among young people jumped an additional 20 percent.
Since 1999, teen MDMA use increased by 71 percent.

More than 12 percent of teens report trying MDMA at least once in their
lives---an increase from 10% in 2000 (a year-to-year increase of 20
percent), 7 percent in 1999 (a 71 percent increase to date) and 5 percent in
1995---an increase of 140 percent from 1995 to 2001. - Source: 2001
Partnership Attitude Tracking Study
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