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July 25, 2000

Ecstasy: Underestimating the Threat

The Honorable Senator Charles Grassley
Chairman
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

America faces another drug threat. Each night somewhere in America there is a dance party. This is not just any dance party, but a Rave. Raves are usually held in a warehouse or large field where those under the age of 21 pay an entrance fee to dance to “ Techno” music. As the music continues well into the night, young adults walk around sucking on baby pacifiers, inhaling vapor rub, and waving glow sticks in front of their faces. These are signals to those who know what to look for. This is the culture of Ecstasy, the newest drug trend.

Last month I chaired a Drug Caucus hearing that examined the domestic effects of a new wave of heroin use. We spoke to former teen users, substance abuse professionals, and a mother who had lost her daughter to addiction. The teen users all had loving and supportive families, and yet all became seriously addicted. As with the heroin hearing, today’s hearing, I hope, will serve as a wake up call and a warning to all Americans about Ecstasy.

Ecstasy may not appear to be as harmful as other hard core drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Certainly, that is what promoters would have you believe. But it’s a lie. It is extremely dangerous, and Ecstasy is a drug that we are only beginning to understand. Here is what we do know: To begin with, very little Ecstasy is manufactured in this country. Unlike cocaine and marijuana, Ecstasy is not grown on a hill side or manufactured in a jungle. It is made much like another dangerous drug spreading across America right now, methamphetamine. It is a synthetic. Chemicals needed to make Ecstasy are imported into Belgium and the Netherlands with relative ease. Highly trained chemists then mix the ingredients together in special labs, using a pill press to form them into the aspirin-sized tablets that teens and young adults then pop into their mouth.

We also know how it gets to our shores. As Commissioner Kelly and Mr. Fiano will tell us, it comes in any way the smugglers can think of. They will stuff the pills in teddy bears, hide pills in fake compartments of luggage, and even go so far as to tape packs of Ecstasy pills onto the body. The newest trend also involves international air mail. Companies such as Federal Express, and the U.S. Postal Service are being used by the traffickers to get Ecstasy into this country. The traffickers, thanks to technology, can then track hour by hour the location of their packages via the Internet.

They also choose their couriers with care. Offering free trips to major European cities, Ecstasy traffickers will use anyone who can pass through Customs without attracting attention. In New York, Orthodox Hasidic Jews were used to transport Ecstasy because the traffickers thought U.S. Customs would never question so religious a person. In a recent seizure, two couriers posing as a couple brought a mentally handicapped child back from a trip to Europe. Inspectors found over 200,000 pills concealed in socks in their luggage. Make no mistake, Ecstasy has arrived on our shores. Customs has seen a record number of seizures this year alone. Since October 1999, U.S. Customs has seized over six million pills. Now compare that with 3 million pills seized for the entire 1999 year. That is a 2 million pill difference over only 8 months.

And the profit from the Ecstasy trade is enormous. A single pill can cost about fifty cents to make, and yet will sell on the streets of our cities for $30 to $50 dollars for a single pill. And kids are more than willing to pay for it. Attracted by the ease of access, and the enhanced senses that make them more social, the Ecstasy high, known as “rolling” gives them the energy to dance the night away and not get tired. Dealers sell the idea that Ecstasy is a “safe alternative” to the other drugs out there. And some organizations such as DanceSafe, which push the idea that drugs can be used responsibly, help perpetuate the idea that dangerous drugs are safe. Since it is much easier to pop a pill into the mouth than to use a needle to inject into the arm or to snort powder through the nose, there is the appearance of safe use. Dealers also push the idea that Ecstasy is not addictive. Since dealers are in the business to make money , of course they push these lies. But the lies are as toxic as the drug.

What young people are not told by the dealers many have to learn the hard way. We know that Ecstasy has extremely dangerous side effects that affect the user individually. It essentially comes down to a game of Russian Roulette. The heart rate rises to dangerous levels, and in some cases just stops. Severe dehydration brought on by Ecstasy is then compounded by the all-night dancing at the raves. Users must constantly drink water to cool off. However, many do not realize they are dehydrating and continue dancing. Those who do not cool off run the risk of death by dehydration. In more and more cases of Ecstasy deaths, body temperatures of Ecstasy users were well over 100 degrees. In one particular death, the Ecstasy users body temperature was 107 degrees. Those who survive over the long-haul can look forward to depression, paranoia, and confusion. Scientists now believe Ecstasy use causes irreversible brain damage.

Make no mistake. More and more kids are using Ecstasy. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey found that lifetime use among 12th graders increased from one in 25 in 1998 to one in 15 in 1999. And it is not just the big cities that face the Ecstasy threat. In my own home state of Iowa, I recently came upon an advertisement, on the Internet, of several raves in Des Moines, many of which touted the all too-certain appearance of Ecstasy at these dances.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement are dealing with the rising tide of Ecstasy every day. Here in the Senate, I, along with Sen. Biden, Graham, Bayh, and Thomas introduced the “Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act.” This bill seeks to increase our awareness of Ecstasy by providing for increased penalties for Ecstasy trafficking and possession, authorizing money for research, and calling for more media campaign time in order to educate the public on the dangers of Ecstasy.

I hope today’s hearing will strengthen our efforts to fight this new and dangerous drug before it explodes any further. I hope parents will pay more attention to where their kids go at night, and to be more aware of the user signs. Ecstasy is out there. It’s time we stop it.