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Lawmakers Push for an End to 'Ecstasy'

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"Recent seizure statistics clearly illustrate this prolific growth," says Richard Fiano, chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Agency. Approximately 1.2 million tablets were seized in 1998 compared to over 12 million tablets in 1999, which translates into a tenfold increase.

A man-made drug, ecstasy is also one of the harder drugs for custom agents to combat, notes Raymond Kelly, commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. "Like smugglers of other drugs, ecstasy carriers fit no simple description. Well-to-do tourists, travelling mainly from Europe, have been caught with ecstasy strapped tightly to their bodies. Smuggling groups also use juveniles, families, and college students studying abroad," he says. "The drug's compact size makes smuggling options almost infinite."

Another problem is that these shipments originate from small European labs -- often in the Netherlands -- unlike other narcotics that need to be grown on large areas of land, says Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state. "Traffickers have been quick to exploit the increasing integration under the European Union," he says. "A borderless European Union, which is key to European unity and economic development, unfortunately also facilitates cross-border crime, including trafficking in ecstasy."

The Netherlands' central role is demonstrated by the fact that some 35 man-made drug production sites were discovered there in 1998, drug enforcement agents say. Law enforcement agents also report that Israeli organized crime groups play a big role in bringing the drug into the U.S., as demonstrated by recent large seizures and arrests of Israeli traffickers in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the U.S.

But despite this growing trafficking problem and body of evidence showing that ecstasy is a dangerous drug, the use of ecstasy is likely to continue and grow among schoolchildren, and a number of congressional members are likely to resist stiffer penalties.

While no other drug showed a significant increase in use over the past year, ecstasy use increased from over 3% in 1998 to more than 4% in 1999 among tenth graders and from under 4% to just below 6% among 12th graders, according to NIH figures. "I think it is now moving from the all-night dance party scene to becoming part of college and university cultures across the country," says Steve Martin, MSc, a research scientist at the University of Delaware's Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies.

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