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[whitespace] Gen-Ecstasy

Fed drug officials amp up efforts to quash use of 'fun drugs'

By Mary Spicuzza

WHEN THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE launched its club drugs initiative at the end of last year, it announced it has nearly doubled the budget for research and education about substances like Ecstasy, GHB, Ketamine, methamphetamine, Rohypnol and LSD. It's now $54 million a year. Concerned because its latest Monitoring the Future study found that 1.5 million people between 18 and 25 years old have tried Ecstasy and 8 percent of high school seniors have experimented with E, the institute aims to spread the word that club drugs are bad news.

"Club drugs are not harmless 'fun drugs.' While users of club drugs may think they're taking them simply for energy to keep on dancing or partying, research shows these drugs have long-lasting negative effects on the brain that can alter memory function and motor skills," says Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the institute.

Researchers have drawn their conclusions mainly from animal tests conducted on red squirrel monkeys and laboratory rats, which show that MDMA causes long-term suppression of serotonin levels. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is integral to the brain's emotional and memorization capabilities. A recent study on humans showed similar results.

Despite the recent media circus, Ecstasy is hardly a new invention. Engineers at Merck Pharmaceuticals, who recently introduced a new brand of silicone, created MDMA in a German laboratory as a chemical agent for synthesizing pharmaceuticals back in 1912. In the 1970s, therapists started using MDMA in couples counseling, because of its ability to enhance pleasure and self-confidence and increase energy while inducing quite the peaceful, easy feeling. Even if couples were fighting, E's libido-stimulating effects helped bring battling partners together. Feds declared it illegal in the mid-1980s, when studies began to suggest that candy-coated happiness was costing users precious brain cells.

A recent series of busts has law enforcement and health educators worried that Ecstasy is flooding into the country faster than ever before. In late February, more than 20 suspected dealers were arrested in relation to an East Coast sting. U.S. Customs agents confiscated more than 3 million hits coming into the country last year, up from 375,000 in 1997. Once sold by dance-loving dealers in hip San Francisco dance scenes, now the hug-drug market has attracted organized crime. Infamous Mafioso Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano was busted for E-dealing earlier this month.

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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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