Friday, November 23, 2001

The Drug Enforcement Administration has forged a new alliance with law enforcement authorities in Europe and Canada to combat a dramatic rise in the production, availability and use of the “party drug” known as Ecstasy.

Drug agents from the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA or Federal Criminal Investigation Agency in Germany), and representatives from Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Czech Republic attended an international law enforcement conference at the DEA academy in Quantico, Va., this week to discuss Ecstasy trafficking.

The weeklong session focused on rising Ecstasy concerns in Europe, Canada and the United States including trafficking trends and the augmentation of coordinated plans to stop the trafficking of the drug between Europe and North America.

Ecstasy is the popular name for the stimulant methyldiocymethamphetamine (MDMA), which has hallucinogenic properties. Used by young people at rock concerts, all-night club parties knows 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 strokes or heart failure, brain damage and death.

“This conference underscores the importance of international and multiagency cooperation in fighting criminal organizations responsible for distributing hundreds of thousands of MDMA tablets worldwide,” said DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson.

Ecstasy was first synthesized in 1912 by a German company to be used as an appetite suppressant. In the 1970s, it was used to facilitate psychotherapy by a small group of therapists in the United States. Illicit use of the drug did not become popular until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ecstasy is frequently used in combination with other drugs.

Clandestine laboratories that produce Ecstasy operate throughout Western Europe, primarily in the Netherlands and Belgium, and they are known to manufacture significant quantities of the drug in tablet, capsule or powder form.

The DEA said that while the vast majority of Ecstasy consumed domestically is produced in Europe, a limited number of laboratories operate in the United States. In addition, in recent years, Israeli organized-crime syndicates, some composed of Russian emigres associated with organized crime in Russia, have forged relationships with Western European traffickers and gained control over a significant share of the European market.

The Israeli syndicates are currently the primary source to U.S. distribution gangs, the DEA said.

DEA officials said overseas trafficking organizations smuggle the drug in shipments of 10,000 or more tablets via express-mail services, couriers aboard commercial airline flights and more recently through air-freight shipments from several major European cities to cities in the United States.

The drug is sold in bulk quantities at the midwholesale level in the United States for about $8 per pill. The retail price of Ecstasy sold in clubs in the United States remains steady at between $20 and $30 per pill.

The DEA said Ecstasy traffickers use brand names and logos as marketing tools to distinguish their product from that of competitors. The logos are produced to coincide with holidays or special events. Among the more popular logos are butterflies, lightning bolts and four-leaf clovers.

The National Drug intelligence Center (NDIC), a Justice Department agency assigned to collect strategic domestic counterdrug information, recently warned that the production, availability and use of Ecstasy had increased at an alarming rate, making its potential threat equal to that of cocaine and heroin.

“Of the club drugs, none presents a greater threat than MDMA or ecstasy,” said the NDIC in a report in August. “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.”

DEA agents and NDIC investigators said the major U.S. distribution cities for Ecstasy are 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.

Mr. Hutchinson recently warned that the use of Ecstasy was rising and many parents of those using the drug were unaware of what was going on at parties and other gatherings where Ecstasy was being used.

“Most parents don’t have law enforcement connections. So they don’t know what’s going on at these functions,” he said. “The world of club drugs is a brand new world, particularly for parents who don’t keep up on the latest fads in music and lifestyles. And that includes most of us.”

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