- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

The production, availability and use of the party drug "ecstasy" has increased at an alarming rate, making its potential threat equal to that of cocaine and heroin.

That's the conclusion of a study by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a Justice Department agency assigned to collect strategic domestic counterdrug information.

"Of the club drugs, none presents a greater threat than MDMA or ecstasy," said the NDIC study made public this month. "When coupled with the growing involvement of organized crime groups in production, transportation and distribution, the threat of MDMA potentially equals that of more traditional drugs."

Ecstasy is a popular name for the stimulant methyldioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), which has hallucinogenic properties. Used by young people at all-night club parties known as "raves" and at private parties, it is designed to suppress the need to eat, drink or sleep. It can cause loss of consciousness, seizures from heat stroke or heart failure, brain damage and death.

NDIC Director Michael Horn said the use of ecstasy, including a rise in both seizures and drug-related deaths, is a substantial threat that "probably has not yet peaked."

He said it caught federal, state and local law enforcement authorities "somewhat by surprise."

"Law enforcement tends to react to problems once they surface," he said. "The use of MDMA caught on and began to take a foothold beneath the scope although federal law-enforcement authorities caught up quite rapidly and reacted fairly expeditiously once they saw how big the threat was."

Mr. Horn said part of the recognition problem was the fact that its source is Europe, which "tends to be on the other end of the food chain."

He said the majority of the drug is produced in laboratories in the Netherlands, with Israeli organized crime syndicates moving it into the United States much of it through Canada.

The major U.S. distribution cities include Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco, although use of the drug is increasing in suburban communities nationwide.

"State and local law enforcement authorities have been dealing with traditional drug problems heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines but have been playing catch-up with MDMA as the problem continues to spread into the rural communities," he said. "If they don't have an MDMA problem today, they will have one tomorrow."

Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Donnie R. Marshall has described ecstasy as "a significant trafficking and abuse problem not only for New York City but in Miami, Los Angeles and virtually every metropolitan area of the United States."

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, has said ecstasy use is "skyrocketing in popularity."

Costing between $25 and $40 per pill, the drug generally reduces inhibitions and creates a sense of euphoria, he said. It also can evoke anxiety and paranoia. Heavier doses generate depression, irrationality and psychosis.

Customs Service Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has warned that ecstasy has rapidly become a major concern for his agency, which has initiated what he described as "new measures … to keep the ecstasy problem from becoming a full-fledged epidemic."

The NDIC said that while many stimulants have the potential for abuse, none presents a more immediate threat than ecstasy, which also is known as "Adam," "X," "E," "XTC" and "empathy." It acts simultaneously as a stimulant and a hallucinogen. It is a white, odorless substance that usually is taken in tablet or capsule form. Users risk exhaustion and dehydration from a combination of the drug and physical exertion.

The study said recent information documenting increases in production, availability and use as well as the involvement of highly sophisticated organized crime groups makes the drug a priority concern.

The study said ecstasy is one of the most frequently abused club drugs and is growing in popularity among young adults.

It said hospital emergency room mentions for ecstasy rose from 68 in 1993 to 637 in 1997, while the number of seizures rose from 196 in 1993 to 143,600 in 1998.

Use of ecstasy, the study said, is not limited to young adults. A recent monitoring program found a higher percentage of ecstasy users among 10th- and 12th-graders than among young adults.

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