Designer Drug Popularity Rising

Designer Drug Popularity Rising
Posted by FoM on June 12, 2000 at 07:45:43 PT
By Bill Zlatos
Source: Tribune-Review
When some college students need a break, they turn to the illegal drug "ecstasy," Rebecca Hudock said.Hudock, 20, a University of Pittsburgh junior from Lewisburg, Union County, estimates 80 percent of her friends have tried the synthetic drug.
"When you're stressed out, when you're worried about the next day's exam, you take it, you just don't feel those problems, " she said. "It's a six-hour reprieve from your worries."Campus officials and local police say ecstasy, once uncommon here, is growing in popularity. Students are asking more questions about the drug and health officials are seeing more cases involving the drug. Campuses are instituting programs to keep ecstasy from really catching on.And what worries campus officials most is that the drug is so new that the effects are not fully known."The use of ecstasy is growing faster than the research can keep up with," said Jeffrey Lauzon, coordinator of alcohol and drug intervention at Carnegie Mellon University.Ecstasy is a designer or synthetic drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties that is swallowed in tablet form or inhaled as a powder. It distorts and heightens perceptions and gives a sense of well-being.Studies also have disclosed that the drug speeds a user's heart rate and has been linked to brain damage and cardiac problems.Over the past year, Lauzon has fielded a dozen questions from students about ecstasy - particularly the effects of mixing it with anti-depressants.Police Chiefs Jim LaPaglia of Carnegie Mellon and Deborah Furka of Pitt said their officers have not yet made any arrests for ecstasy. But the chiefs are not taking it lightly."Campuses are concerned about the use of the drug because of the damage and effect it can have on individuals," Furka said.Medical literature has reported deaths from ecstasy, said Edward Krenzelok, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children's Hospital. In the past two weeks, he said, medical research has demonstrated learning disabilities among ecstasy users.In January, Penn State University released its first student survey of drug and alcohol use at University Park.Designer drugs like ecstasy ranked third in popularity behind alcohol and marijuana, according to the poll. Ninety-five percent of the students said they did not use ecstasy in the past year; about 3 percent use it once a year; and 1 percent six times a year. In comparison, 67 percent of students said they had not used marijuana in the past year; 11 percent said they used it once a year; and 22 percent said they used it more frequently.Linda LaSalle, community health director at Penn State, coordinated the survey. She stressed that most students don't use any illegal drugs but said she still is worried about ecstasy."We're definitely concerned," she said, "because any time students participate in illegal drug use, there's a potential these students could experience negative consequences. And they could endanger other students."Campus officials say they have been addressing the drug through education. They provide information during freshman orientations, presentations on campus or in pamphlets.City and county police complain that their enforcement efforts are hampered by a generation gap.Ecstasy appeals to adolescents. The drug frequently is used at raves, which are all-night dance parties held at private clubs."The users are so young we have a hard time getting our people in there," said Sgt. Michael Kroner of city police's narcotics division.Laughing, he said, "When you throw 40-year-old people in with 18-year-old people, you stand out a bit."County police have confiscated ecstasy during searches five times this year, said Lt. Harold Cline of the narcotics, vice and intelligence unit. Those searches also netted other drugs."We find people dealing in ecstasy are dealing with other drugs," Cline said.He said his department is investigating 10 to 15 ecstasy cases. That represents as many cases as it handled all of last year."These numbers are still small, but they're definitely increasing," Cline said.He said the cases at first involved the young rave crowd and the homosexual community. Lately, he said, the use of ecstasy has expanded to heroin and crack-cocaine users.Kroner said city police have made no arrests for ecstasy but are aware of its use in the Strip District.Pitt students say the drug offers these appeals: cheapness, pleasure, easy availability and few harmful side effects.Cost ranges from $20 to $50 a tablet, or hit."It's cheaper than other drugs with the same effect," said Hudock. "You can ask a kid in Spanish class, and they'll probably have it."Melanie Bowman, 19, a Pitt junior from Philadelphia, knows five to 10 people who use it."It really stimulates your senses," she said. "If someone touches you, you can feel it all over."But the notion that ecstasy is safe is a myth, contend experts who deal with its effects.Ecstasy accounts for 25 percent of the cases handled by the outpatient chemical dependency program at St. Francis Medical Center, said program coordinator Bill Doperak.The Pittsburgh Poison Center handles calls about drug overdoses, including ecstasy, from emergency rooms in the area. Calls about ecstasy were rare about three years ago but have since grown, especially the past year, Krenzelok said.One of his concerns is that ecstasy is not made by pharmaceutical companies, but rather in "bathtub laboratories." As a result, it may contain impurities or be laced with other harmful drugs."If you saw a piece of wrapped candy just lying on a sidewalk on a busy street, you probably wouldn't pick it up and eat it," Krenzelok said. "Yet we trust drug dealers." Published: June 12, 2000  2000 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.Related Articles:Ecstasy Without Fear Smoke a Joint, Lose Your Loan
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