About Caucus







March 21, 2001

America at Risk: The Ecstasy Threat

The Honorable Senator Joseph Biden, Jr.
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for convening this important hearing today to talk about Ecstasy, a synthetic stimulant and hallucinogen. Ecstasy belongs to a group of drugs referred to as "club drugs" because they are associated with all-night dance parties known as "raves."

The growing abuse of this drug is of great concern to me. Last July, I released a comprehensive report on the drug, laying out the issues of who is using the drug, where it is coming from, and what its effects are on the brain and the body as a whole.

And last year I joined with Senator Graham and several other members of the Caucus to introduce legislation to respond to law enforcement concerns that the current penalties for trafficking Ecstasy are too low. The Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act, signed into law by President Clinton in October, asked the Sentencing Commission to raise the penalties to an appropriate level. And just yesterday the Commission voted on new sentencing guideline which would make the penalty for trafficking Ecstasy between those for trafficking powder cocaine and heroin. In practical terms this means someone with 800 pills would be subject to 5 years in prison.

The legislation also provided $10 million for prevention programs to dispel the widespread misconception that Ecstasy is not a dangerous drug.

If you believe what you read in Time and the New York Times Magazine, you would think that Ecstasy is the key to enlightenment. Two months ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an incredibly irresponsible cover story that depicted Ecstasy as a drug that leads to greater self-awareness. The author told the story of one user who said that before he started using the drug he was "very alienated," but after using Ecstasy he reported:

I’m healthier...I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I exercise, I take vitamins. I’ve gotten interested in meditation. This whole scene for me has been the best thing personally. I’ve become a better human being. I’ve become much more calm, much more considerate. I don’t freak out about stupid things anymore.

That depiction seems to mirror what so many kids think – that Ecstasy is a drug that will make them more compassionate and will open their minds. They think that taking the drug is "no big deal."

Well, the truth is that Ecstasy is a very big deal. According to the scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse – who are doing some amazing and groundbreaking research on Ecstasy’s impact on the brain – the drug depletes the brain of serotonin, the chemical responsible for mood, thought and memory.

If that isn’t a big deal, I don’t know what is.

Last year we got a significant warning sign that Ecstasy use was becoming a real problem. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, a national survey measuring drug use among students, reported that while overall levels of drug use had not increased, past month use of Ecstasy among high school seniors increased more than 66 percent.

The survey showed that nearly six percent of high school seniors have used Ecstasy in the past year. This may sound like a small number, so let me put it in perspective -- it is just slightly less than the percentage of high school seniors who used cocaine and five times the number of high school seniors who used heroin.

And with the supply of Ecstasy increasing as rapidly as it is, the number of kids using this drug is only likely to increase. Last year the Customs Service seized 9.3 million Ecstasy tablets – more than 23 times as many as were seized in 1997.

Though New York, Miami and Los Angeles are the national hubs for this drug, it is spreading quickly throughout the country. As Sargent Rust of the Milford, Delaware Police Department and Milford School Resource Officer Darryl Mifflin – both of whom are here with us today -- will attest, Ecstasy has arrived in Delaware. And in Delaware, as in other places, Ecstasy use is not just something that happens on a Friday or Saturday night – it is becoming an underground lifestyle for some kids, especially high school students.

We need to dispel the myth that Ecstasy is safe because, as stated earlier, this is a substance that can cause brain damage and can even result in death.

We need to spread the message so that kids know the risk involved with taking Ecstasy, what it can do to their bodies, their brains, their futures. Adults also need to be taught about this drug – what it looks like, what someone high on Ecstasy looks like, and what to do if they discover that someone they know is using it.

I commend Chairman Grassley for calling this hearing to highlight the dangers associated with Ecstasy and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.