- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Maryland and federal officials yesterday began an education and law enforcement campaign aimed at curbing the skyrocketing popularity and use of the party drug Ecstasy.
"If you see this kind of paraphernalia around your kids, know it is a problem," Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend told an audience at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Among the seemingly benign items Mrs. Townsend listed were baby's pacifiers, which help Ecstasy users cope with involuntary tooth grinding that often follows taking the drug.
Also displayed as Ecstasy "tools" were candy tablets that can be used as a medium and disguise for the drug and a respiratory mask and nasal inhaler used to increase the drug's more pleasurable effects.
Almost undetected in 1998, when only two Maryland counties reported its use, Ecstasy now has been seized in 21 of the state's 23 counties and Baltimore.
Just last week, police raided a home-based Ecstasy manufacturing operation in Salisbury, demonstrating that users no longer rely on illegal mail and courier shipments from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to supply demand for the drug.
"It's now one of the top-20 substances encountered in emergency rooms in the United States," said Frank L. Sapienza, chief of drug and chemical evaluation for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Physicians and police said Ecstasy has become a top drug of choice because its promoters who can manufacture a dose for about 25 cents and sell it for more than $5 have marketed it on the Internet and by word of mouth as "happy," "safe" and socially acceptable.
Using the drug can heighten sensations, allowing users to dance all night at parties called "raves." But Ecstasy use also increases the heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, which can damage the brain and internal organs, and even kill, said Dr. Leigh Vinocur, an emergency-room physician.
And studies show long-term effects of Ecstasy whose chemical name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine can include visual, cognitive and motor impairment, as well as psychiatric disorders such as paranoia, depression and anxiety.
"All my friends love it, but don't think it's good," said Melissa, a University of Maryland senior who declined to give her last name.
Melissa said her first and only experience with the drug actually made her sick. "I started shivering and sweating you never know what's in that anything could be," said the kinesiology major.
But a young man who identified himself as a sophomore computer-science major said he believes government efforts to stop people from using Ecstasy are a waste of time.
"I'm kind of like against drugs," he said, between drags on a cigarette, "but I'm for people trying things if they want to change. When you smoke weed, it helps free your subconscious to the conscious. But in the end, it [messes] you up. You need to grow out of it."
Enforcement and education efforts, including public-service announcements that will air in the Washington area and throughout Maryland, will require extra coordination, but not extra funds, Mrs. Townsend said.
Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell said the state Fire Marshal's Office will work with local zoning officials to identify dangerously crowded clubs that may be hosting raves, the giant dance parties where Ecstasy use is common.
Officials also intend to increase penalties for possession and distribution of the drug, which now are limited, respectively, to four and five years in jail, plus fines.
Of the 10 deaths associated with Ecstasy use in Maryland since 1998, one was a woman and nine were men ranging in age from 18 to 30. Among the most recent fatalities was a 26-year-old black man in Montgomery County. All other persons determined to have Ecstasy in their system when they died of drug-related causes were white.

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