The agony of Ecstasy hits home in Maryland

Dangerous drug: Appeal of youth "club drug" soaring despite insidious, lasting health effects.

October 01, 2001

ECSTASY, chemically known as MDMA, is no longer just a "club drug," confined to frenetic dancers at all-night "rave" parties.

It is the fastest-growing illegal drug in Maryland and in the United States. It may not be physically addictive, but it can permanently damage the brain, harm the kidney and liver, cause heart attacks, comas and seizures. And Ecstasy can kill.

The latest drug-use survey of nearly 35,000 Maryland schoolchildren confirms the rising appeal of this stimulant-hallucinogen pill. Use among state 12th-graders doubled in just four years. A nationwide study finds that one in nine seniors has tried Ecstasy.

And school-based statistics understate the drug's popularity.

Surveys find MDMA in wider use by 18- to-25- year-olds and by juvenile offenders no longer in school.

Maryland State Police handled 128 Ecstasy cases last year, only 13 in 1998. The Maryland Poison Center recorded 110 cases.

Emergency room cases have soared with increased recognition by staff.

The state is responding with intensified law enforcement, monitoring and treatment efforts and an education campaign with the nation's first TV spots on Ecstasy.

The biggest problem is convincing youths of Ecstasy's danger. Too many falsely believe that they can avoid harm by drinking water and cooling down, countering higher body temperatures and dehydration caused by the drug.

They think that buying pure MDMA, instead of pills containing other drugs or poisons, will protect them, even though Ecstasy is made in underground home labs for street sale.

Ecstasy is insidious because its effects of euphoria and high energy soon wear off, bringing on symptoms of confusion, depression and paranoia weeks later. There's strong clinical evidence of organ damage and long-term loss of visual and verbal memory.

Prison penalties for Ecstasy crimes were tripled this year. Yet defenders trivialize it as "kiddie dope" and promote its "safe" usage through Internet chat rooms.

The increasingly sad truth is entirely different. Ecstasy is destructive misery.

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