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DoD Attacks Ecstasy Drug Use

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2000 – What drug comes in tablets, makes "painful" realities go away and is popular among hedonistic young people today -- including some service members?

The answer is an illegal "designer" drug called Ecstasy, also known as "Adam," "XTC," "Clarity" and "Essence," among other street names. Its use by service members increased markedly in fiscal 1999, and that's a concern to the Department of Defense," said Army Col. Mick Smith, science and testing officer of DoD's Office of the Coordinator for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support.

DoD has tracked Ecstasy and service members' use since the early 1990s. "Our primary concern was that this was a popular drug in Europe, and we had service members stationed there," Smith said. DoD mandated servicewide random testing for Ecstasy in 1997. "Ecstasy use is still not as prevalent as use of marijuana or cocaine."

Ecstasy is the common name for 3, 4- methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a synthetic, psychoactive drug. It has no medical value and cannot be prescribed legally, Smith said. The drug is mostly manufactured in secret labs in the Netherlands and Belgium, with worldwide distribution arranged by organized crime. Most people who use Ecstasy range in age from 14 to 25, with 18 being the most common age, he said.

When ingested, Ecstasy is quickly absorbed into the user's bloodstream, Smith said. It goes to the brain and causes a massive release of a natural chemical called serotonin.

"Serotonin is a chemical that makes us feel good, so the Ecstasy user feels euphoria and a heightening of his or her senses," he said. "The user will also experience increased heart rate, increased energy level and may hallucinate." One "hit" of Ecstasy, which can cost up to $30, may last four to six hours, he added.

However, Ecstasy has a dark downside not readily apparent to the "invincible" young people who use it.

"Recent scientific evidence has shown that even small amounts of Ecstasy damage the nerve cells that produce serotonin and cause permanent brain damage," Smith said. "Users become depressed and suffer from memory loss. Some chronic users become permanently depressed."

Smith notes that Ecstasy has been popular since the late 1980s among young people overseas, particularly in Europe. The drug has become a signature of youthful crowds that dance all night in packed, overheated clubs called "raves." The drug has crossed the Atlantic in force: U.S. hospitals participating in the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that Ecstasy-related emergency room incidents increased nationwide from 250 in 1994, to 637 in 1997, to 1,142 in 1998.

Ecstasy abuse can be dangerous. "Users taking too much Ecstasy may become dehydrated, have elevated temperature, have a drop in blood pressure, have a seizure, and die," Smith said. "There have been numerous reports of young people dying after Ecstasy use."

Each 300 milligram Ecstasy tablet contains about 75 to 150 milligrams of the drug, often mixed with other chemicals, Smith said. The tablets may be branded with logos such as butterflies, lightning bolts, zodiac signs, stars and clovers.

The president's Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that most Ecstasy comes from Europe, but noted recently that the Drug Enforcement Administration seized five clandestine Ecstasy labs in the United States in early 1999.

The U.S. military takes service members' drug abuse seriously. It uses education and deterrence -- most notably in the form of random urinalyses testing -- to reduce drug demand within its ranks, Smith said. These efforts continue to be successful, he said, pointing to the relatively low number of service members who are testing positive for illegal drug use.

DoD conducted 2,273,998 urinalyses in fiscal 1999, according to Smith. Marijuana positives were 12,006, cocaine positives were 2,839, methamphetamine positives were 807, Ecstasy positives were 432, and lysergic acid diethylamide -- LSD -- positives were 325.

Additionally, the Defense Department has worked for three years to develop a better drug test, Smith said.

"Next year, DoD will implement a better screening process in its random drug testing program that will be more sensitive and identify more Ecstasy users," he said. "DoD has also been working with law enforcement officials to track and identify sources of supply and regions where Ecstasy use is most prevalent. The largest recent increase in use has been in the Northeast."

Using Ecstasy violates Article 112-A of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Smith said. The article outlaws the knowing use of any illegal drug in the military. Drug users are subject to punitive discharges, prison or both.

"Many drug users believe that they will not get caught, but when they do get caught in a random drug test, the consequences are harsh," he concluded.

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