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Addicts Testify on Agony of Ecstasy

July 31, 2001|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Philip McCarthy just wanted to have as much fun as the other kids when he took Ecstasy for the first time at a house party in a New York City suburb. Soon the 17-year-old was hooked and stealing televisions and VCRs to support a $300-a-week drug habit.

When he was on Ecstasy, "I felt like the world was glowing with love and my body felt unreal," McCarthy, of Central Islip, N.Y., told the Senate Government Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) Monday at a hearing on Ecstasy's quick growth.

"It was a high I definitely wanted again," said McCarthy, who is in drug treatment.

Ecstasy, known scientifically as methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is a synthetic, psychoactive pill that typically induces feelings of euphoria and dramatically raises blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. It gained popularity in the 1990s at all-night dance parties known as raves.

"While users of club drugs often take them simply for energy to keep on dancing or partying, research shows these drugs can have long-lasting negative effects on the brain that can alter memory and other behaviors," said Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

He said more public education about the drug's dangers, including heart, kidney and brain damage, is essential to combating its use.

McCarthy and fellow Phoenix House drug treatment program participant Dayna Moore, 16, said they knew nothing of the anger and depression that would hit after Ecstasy's high wore off. That quickly led them into cycles of addiction as they took more and more Ecstasy, which sells for $20 to $40 per pill.

"It was a depression that I couldn't stand," said Moore, of Ridge, N.Y.

Seizures of Ecstasy by the Customs Service grew from about 400,000 tablets in 1997 to 3.5 million tablets in 1999, to more than 9 million tablets in 2000. The drug is manufactured mostly in Belgium and the Netherlands.

"No matter how successful our enforcement efforts, our best defense is less demand," said John Varrone, assistant commissioner in Customs' office of investigations.

The White House's drug policy office began a $5-million radio and Internet campaign in August 2000 aimed at educating youths and adults about Ecstasy's dangers, said Donald R. Vereen Jr., the office's deputy director.

Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) have sponsored legislation that would require more public education about Ecstasy and provide funding to state and local law enforcement and to the National Institutes of Health for research on the drug's effects. In the House, a similar bill by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) has bipartisan support. The bills are S. 1208 and H.R. 2582.

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