- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

The synthetic drug Ecstasy, which costs as little as 50 cents a tablet to produce in Europe but can yield as much as $40 a pill in this country, is being seized at record levels from travelers, cargo and packages entering the United States, according to federal authorities.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said that although more than 9.3 million Ecstasy tablets were seized in 2000, a threefold increase over 1999, more than 4 million tablets have been seized so far this fiscal year, since Oct. 1.

“In the past, Ecstasy was most-commonly associated with the big city club scene and popular all-night dance parties known as ‘raves.’ This is no longer the case,” Mr. Bonner said. “Ecstasy use has spread to bars, college campuses and high schools and junior high schools across the country. What began primarily as an urban threat has now become a national crisis.”

Ecstasy, also known by its chemical abbreviation MDMA, has emerged as a major concern for U.S. law-enforcement authorities, Mr. Bonner said, both because of the health risks it poses to frequent users and the drug’s increasing ties to criminal smuggling groups.

In the past several years, he said, violent crime tied to the illegal Ecstasy trade has been on the rise. Mr. Bonner said that although the level of violence associated with Ecstasy trafficking has not reached the same proportions as the cocaine or heroin trade, he predicted the incidents of assaults and related violence will increase.

“Demand for Ecstasy is surging in the United States, and the worst elements of the criminal underworld are aggressively competing for the profits,” said Mr. Bonner, who formerly headed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In response to the rise in Ecstasy trafficking in the United States, Mr. Bonner said CBP has begun several new initiatives, including the establishment of an Ecstasy Task Force at CBP headquarters in Washington to lead investigative and countersmuggling efforts.

He said the task force will be responsible for gathering daily intelligence on Ecstasy smuggling and coordinating CBP’s response with other law-enforcement agencies. CBP also has trained 106 drug-detecting dogs to detect Ecstasy and stationed them at airports and at mail and cargo facilities across the country, he said.

“While these measures will help us to combat the rising tide of Ecstasy, we must again appeal to the public, especially parents, to help us in this fight,” Mr. Bonner said. “Don’t be fooled by what some describe as the minimal side effects of the drug.”

He said Ecstasy has been classified as a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as heroin and LSD. In addition, he said, a growing body of medical research continues to point to the risks of irreversible brain damage among Ecstasy users.

“In the end, our best defense is less demand. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Ecstasy. Educate your child about the risks associated with the use of this and other drugs,” he said. “And if you become aware of any smuggling activity, please report it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at 1-800-BE ALERT.”

Ecstasy generally is distributed in tablet form, federal authorities said, adding that individual tablets often are imprinted with graphic designs or commercial logos. They said it usually is ingested in tablet form, but also can be crushed and snorted, injected or used in suppository form.

In 2000, more than 6.4 million people 12 and older reported they had used Ecstasy at least once in their lives.

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