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July 25, 2000

Ecstasy: Underestimating the Threat

The Honorable Senator Bob Graham
Member
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

I want to thank Senator Grassley and Senator Biden for holding this hearing of the Drug Caucus. I am pleased that we are meeting in this forum to examine the seriousness of the recent rise in trafficking, distribution and abuse of Ecstasy.

It is the collective responsibility of the Congress and the Administration to ensure that both federal law enforcement and the federal judiciary possess the necessary tools to effectively address the scourge of designer drug trafficking. To that end, Senators Grassley, Biden, Thomas, Bayh and I introduced the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000 on May 23rd. Since then, Senators Mack, DeWine and Thurmond have signed on as co-sponsors. On May 25th, Congresswoman Judy Biggert introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Year 2000 Annual Report on the National Drug Control Strategy clearly states that the use of ecstasy is on the rise in the United States, particularly among teenagers and young professionals.

Numerous data also reflect that the drug is increasingly available in metropolitan centers and suburban communities. In the first few months of Fiscal Year 2000, the Customs Service had already seized nearly six million ecstasy tablets, a dramatic increase from the 3.5 million doses seized in all of 1999.

The widespread and false reputation of Ecstasy as being an harmless drug is its most dangerous component. Our young Americans have been lulled into a belief that ecstasy, and other designer drugs, are “safe” ways to get high, escape reality, and enhance intimacy in personal relationships. The drug traffickers make their living off of perpetuating and exploiting this myth.

It is clear that ecstasy is an extremely dangerous drug. In my state alone, in the first four months of this year, there have already been six deaths directly attributed to Ecstasy. This drug, when used by itself, or in combination with other “club” drugs and alcohol, is a known killer.

There is also evidence that this drug can cause long-lasting and possibly permanent damage to the serotonin system of the brain. This system is fundamental to the integration of information and emotion, and the damage caused by Ecstasy use can cause long-term problems in learning and memory.

The lucrative nature of Ecstasy is a major factor encouraging the rapid growth in its importation. To summarize, production costs are low while retail prices are high. For example, approximately one month ago, the Customs Service cracked an ecstasy smuggling ring, and seized nearly 650,000 tablets with an estimated street value of $19.5 million.

When the potential profitability of this drug is compared to the potential punishment, it is easy to see why ecstasy is an extremely valuable commodity for professional smugglers. Current sentencing guidelines do not reflect the seriousness of this drug, and typically result in relatively short periods of incarceration for individuals sentenced for ecstasy-related crimes.

Our legislation amends federal sentencing guidelines to increase the base level offense for ecstasy related crimes. This provision accomplishes the goal of effectively lowering the amount of ecstasy required for prosecution under the laws governing possession with the intent to distribute by sending a message to federal prosecutors that this drug is a serious threat.

This bill also provides for elements of an ecstasy information campaign to include community based education programs and school-based programs to target local law enforcement officials, health officials, parents and especially our young people. Through this campaign, information on this drug’s unpredictable impurities and side effects will be made known to a wide audience.

Our hope is that we will soon see a dramatic reduction in the demand for this drug and a decline in the quantities present on our streets. It is clear that we need to place more emphasis on the penalties associated with ecstasy related crimes and the education of every member of our local communities, ranging from law enforcement personnel to our young people. It is my hope that this hearing will shed more light on this growing addition to the plague of drugs on our society.