Drugs are a ridiculous way to handle all kinds of things. A recent Teen Magazine survey noted that: 86% of respondents had tried drugs before, 77% of whom are under 16. 63% have tried marijuana, 16% have taken a trip, and 32% have no worries about drugs. That is pretty heavy. The top 3 reasons for taking drugs were: Enjoyment, Dealing with pressure, and Peer Pressure. Do you want to end up in hospital, severely injured or DEAD?
Anna Wood was a happy 15-year-old girl who was popular, on top of the world, nearly perfectuntil one Saturday night, when her friends decided to take her out to a rave party. She told her parents she was going go-kart racing and left to an Ultimo nightclub, where she snuck in with a 19-year-old friend, and bought a full ecstasy tablet for $60. She took the entire pill and started to party. After about 2 hours Anna was rolling under the effects of ecstasy. She was sitting on a boys’ lap, constantly repeating to her friends “I’m having the best night of my life.” Soon she smiled and said, “I think I’m going to throw up.” She spewed and ran to the restroom. Her friends took her home, saying her drink had been spiked, too scared to tell the truth. One friend went to get Anna’s mother, who phoned an ambulance. Anna was feeling awful, continuing to throw up. She eventually passed out. The paramedics arrived, and took her to hospital. Three days later she was declared brain dead, after on ecstasy tablet. If just one drug can KILL you, imagine the effects of a whole lot.
The purpose of this speech is to help inform naive people about the dangers of a new drug sweeping the country: a compound called MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. Law enforcement officials say the drug worries them more than any other. It may also be spreading more quickly than any other illegal drug in America.
Despite a reputation among many users for being “safe,” it is also dangerous: in Florida alone, one of the few states tracking the phenomenon, there have been at least 40 deaths involving Ecstasy in the last three years.
MDMA was outlawed 15 years ago, but since then its use has been skyrocketing. According to one government study, one out of 12 high school seniors has tried Ecstasy.
The drug has a reputation for making users feel relaxed and friendly. “With Ecstasy, everyone’s your brother, everyone’s your sister, everyone’s your best friend,” says 21-year-old Chauncey Barton. For almost half his life, Barton has used drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and speed. None, he says, compare to Ecstasy.
Barton describes taking Ecstasy as the “best feelings you’ve ever had in all your life condensed into a six to eight hour span… they call it Ecstasy for a reason.”
Teenagers are not the only ones using it. “Ecstasy used to be associated only with raves but now it has become very fashionable,” says Mike Stevens, an undercover police detective who works the drug scene in Orlando, Florida.
Stevens says about 80 percent of the people in the clubs where he goes undercover are either selling or using Ecstasy.
Many people put Ecstasy in a different category from other drugs, believing that it is somehow less serious. Stevens, though, disagrees. “Ecstasy is no different from crack or heroin,” he says. “But that’s the label it’s gotten, that it’s kiddie dope.”
Ecstasy can cause dehydration, anxiety and exhaustion. Emergency room doctors say they’re seeing a rise in overdoses, a condition that can result in increased body temperature, brain damage and sometimes death. In the last few years, 1,100 cases have been reported.
U.S. Customs has seized four million Ecstasy pills so far this year. That’s a tenfold increase since 1997. No one is sure how many more made it onto the streets.
Nearly all of the Ecstasy pills in the United States come from Amsterdam, the Ecstasy capital of the world. The Dutch government there is trying to do something about it.
Cees Van Doorn is the chief criminal investigator in the south of Holland, where Ecstasy is produced in enormous quantities in what are essentially factories. Van Doorn’s unit has shut down 35 Ecstasy labs in the last five years. But for every one busted, he says, ten more crop up.
At one former Ecstasy factory, Van Doorn pointed out a machine that can produce 300 Ecstasy pills a minute. Assuming that it operates ten hours a day, seven days a week, it can produce more than 1.2 million pills a week. The cost per pill, for manufacturers: 20 cents. On the street that pill is worth $20 – These profits are attracting many to the Ecstasy trade.
To users, though, Ecstasy appears to have fewer drawbacks than other drugs. Unlike cocaine or heroin, which must be snorted or injected, Ecstasy comes in pill form, which to most seems somehow safer.
Barton says that when he began using Ecstasy, he thought that serious problems were very rare. He found out the hard way that the drug could be more dangerous. Barton’s best friend, Jason Austin, bought about eight pills at a rave in Florida. Barton believes his friend may have taken as many as five of them.
“The way Ecstasy works is you got all this energy, and all this life built up in you,” Barton says. “So you have to dance or do something to get it out. Austin tried dancing. He stood up. Fell back down.”
At that point, Barton began to get scared. “He was like a fish out of water, flopping around on the ground,” Barton recalls of his friend.
“From what I understand he had 106-degree fever when he showed up at the hospital,” Barton says. “Brain damage is supposed to start at 104. He had slipped into a coma and pretty much every major organ in his body was bleeding quite profusely.” Jason Austin is dead.
According to Duke University pharmacology professor Wilkie Wilson, an overheating human body begins to go through epilepsy-like seizures. “It is a terrible way to die,” he says.
Because it makes them feel so good, Wilson says, users are reluctant to believe that the drug can hurt them.
Ecstasy works by affecting one of the brain’s key chemicals. It causes the brain to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control mood. Lack of serotonin can contribute to depression, and can harm areas of the brain responsible for thought and memory. Recent studies suggest that even one dose of Ecstasy can damage the brain.
Wilson worries that Ecstasy users will permanently harm their brains. “This drug is spreading so fast among so many people that I’m really afraid that we’re going to have a generation of depressed people,” he says.
While police try to get Ecstasy off the streets, a California organization known as Dance Safe takes a different approach. It has accepted the drug as a fact of life, and is trying to reduce the risk by warning users of the dangers, like dehydration and overheating. They’re doing something else almost unheard of in the U.S. – testing the drug itself to see how much it has been adulterated by other compounds besides MDMA.
“If the pill tests positive for Ecstasy that is no indication of purity,” says Dance Safe founder Emanuel Sferios. “And even if it is pure, that’s no indication of safety. No drug use is safe.”
Sferios says that, as much as 30 percent of the pills they test are not real Ecstasy, but are substitutes – with PCP, speed or other harmful substances.
“We neither condemn nor condone the use of drugs, but provide people with information so they can make informed choices,” says Sferios. “The Just Say No philosophy – trying to stop people from using drugs – is not working.”
Critics say that by testing pills and giving out information, the group is encouraging drug use. But Sferios says that his group has saved lives, and that those who use drugs would use them whether or not Dance Safe existed.
Ecstasy will probably not disappear soon. Even those who have foresworn it admit that it can make users feel wonderful. “Of all the drugs I’ve taken in my life, I have to say that Ecstasy is probably the sweetest drug I’ve ever taken,” Barton says. Nevertheless, he says he will never take it again. “I’ll never touch that stuff again. Ever, ever. No, never.”