Use of Ecstasy explodes on-campus and in clubs
Your brain on ecstasy

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Use of Ecstasy explodes on-campus and in clubs

By Kelly Kaufhold

Illegal drug use has been a staple on college campuses since the parents of today's class walked the same halls 30-years ago. But a trend that started in clubs and at all-night raves is grooving its way into schools - and with deadly results. There is an explosion right now of the use of "Ecstasy" on campus. (The drug name is also sometimes spelled "Ecstacy").

Poll Results

Have you ever tried the drug ecstasy?

Is it readily available for sale on campus? [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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That's the popular name hung on MDMA, an abbreviation for the clinical mouthful "3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine." As the last part suggests, the drug gives users about a six-hour energy burst. A boost in heart rate and euphoria. Those are accompanied by some major risks: Short term hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, long-term permanent brain damage and even death (medical experts say a single dose could kill you).

Now millions of the pills are finding their way into the U.S. And the numbers prove it. Busts by Customs agents are seven times higher than they were three years ago. Not surprising since the drug's made a niche for itself in today's pop culture. It's readily available at nightclubs and rave parties... Even Hollywood's giving it free PR. The movie "Let's Talk About Sex" has references to the little colorful pills.

Our exclusive CPNet Poll also shows Ecstasy is easily accessible on most college campuses. Of the students who responded online, half say it's for sale on their campus - and one in four who responded admits that they've tried it at least once.

Information like this is what has forced the National Institute on Drug Abuse to launch a coast-to-coast campaign via the Internet. In early December the NIDA held a Web cast news conference to talk about its $54 million campaign assault to warn young people about the potentially life-threatening dangers of club drugs like Ecstasy, GHB and Rohypnol (or "roofies").

"Ecstasy in particular - there is very good scientific evidence that it causes damage to the ... nerve system, affecting moods, sexual function, eating habits. What it seems to do is, at the time it's stimulating this nerve activity, it damages it"

DR. RICHARD WEISMAN,
Director of Florida's Poison Information Center

The NIDA, a division of the National Institutes of Health, is teaming up with four other national organizations to help spread the word. One of those groups is "National Families In Action," headed by Executive Director Sue Rusche. "We are particularly concerned about the negative impact of club drugs on college students. That's why we're helping launch 'International Students In Action,' a group committed to educating fellow students across the nation about the dangers of drug use, particularly club drug use."

Although Ecstasy has been around in American clubs since the mid-80s, recent club drug abuse has sparked a sharp increase in emergency room admissions. By 1997 it was 637, and this year, more than one thousand. Dr. Richard Weisman is the Director of Florida's Poison Information Center at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, he says there was an increase two years ago... And those levels haven't gone down.

"There's probably three (or) four cases every Friday and Saturday night, and it's stayed at that." While he answers emergency calls on all kinds of drug problems, he especially sees "GHB, chemical abuse, and a tremendous amount of Ecstasy," and that's a major concern. "Ecstasy in particular - there is very good scientific evidence that it causes damage to the Serotoninergic nerve system, affecting moods, sexual function, eating habits. What it seems to do is, at the time it's stimulating this nerve activity, it damages it."

Dr. Weisman says that makes Ecstasy as dangerous as cocaine, because both drugs leave damage behind, after the effects wear off. He then adds that many people, especially students, don't think these drugs carry as much of a risk as higher profile narcotics like heroin and cocaine. It's not an isolated problem.

"It puts you in another zone, it's trippy, you hear the music, it gives you energy, it does give you energy, you can go out and dance all night."

EDWARD,
Ecstasy user.

Edward* is a fan of raves who says he sees Ecstasy use, "everywhere. You see people -- 30-years olds -- taking it in a regular bar that you wouldn't expect. As far as the kids (who) eat that when they go to raves and stuff, if you buy two pills they could cost you thirty dollars, so it's what they do instead of drinking, or drinking and doing 'X.' That's what I do."

Doing both (Ecstasy and alcohol) fuels the risk even more. But Edward says it happens. "Some people mix and match, now that I think about it. I see some people coming in the bathroom with a beer in their hand, and their eyes in the back of their heads, and their teeth grinding." That's one of many side effects of Ecstasy and other amphetamines.

Believe it or, there are club drug Web sites offering tips on recreational drug use. They show you how to prep your body for a dose of "X" and how to handle a dose while you're on the dance floor. But leaders at the NIH feel strongly enough about it to phrase its warning this way: "There is no such thing as recreational drug use."

Want more proof? A study done in England back in April of 1997 shows 60 deaths were tied to Ecstasy use in the United Kingdom. That same study suggests direct links to liver and heart damage, epileptic seizures, permanent vision loss, and depression. One million youth popped an "E" tab each week back then. Today some estimates say use is ten times that worldwide.

Edward explains, "It puts you in another zone, it's trippy, you hear the music, it gives you energy, it does give you energy, you can go out and dance all night."

*Last names withheld to provide anonymity.