Study: Teen Ecstasy Use Rising Fast

Calling it the "rave generation's cocaine," a nonprofit antidrug group is putting out a stern warning about Ecstasy, an increasingly popular drug that is being embraced by more and more teens.

"We're finding it alarming," Ginna Marston, the executive vice president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America told Good Morning America. "Teen drug use is down and holding steady, but Ecstasy use is going up steadily."

A synthetic stimulant that comes in a pill, Ecstasy used to be the province of 20-somethings who used it at dance clubs or all-night raves, but now it is drawing the teen set.

The number of teens using Ecstasy has jumped 20 percent since last year, and 71 percent since 1999, with an estimated 2.8 million teens at least trying the drug once, according to a PDFA study released today on Good Morning America. Starting today, the nonprofit coalition is launching a series of public service announcements warning of the dangers of Ecstasy.

The new study, which looked at 6,937 teens across the country, found that more than 12 percent of teens had tried Ecstasy at least once in 2001, compared to previous studies that found usage rates of 10 percent in 2000, seven percent in 1999, and five percent in 1995, the PDFA reported. Overall teen drug use has been diminishing since 1997 and remained stable between 2000 and 2001, but Ecstasy has been the exception, the only type of drug that is attracting more teens.

It is now about as widely used by teens as cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD or methamphetamines. Marijuana remains the most widely used drug, with 41 percent of teens reporting that they have tried it.

Cocaine Marketing Strategy

Experts say the big problem with Ecstasy is its image — one that is so positive, it is almost as though some clever marketing wizard came up with a campaign for it. Though current statistics show that most teens will never try the drug, experts worry that the hype surrounding it could prompt the number of teens using Ecstasy to double.

Dubbed the "love drug" or the "hug drug" or just "X," Ecstasy accelerates the release of serotonin in the brain, creating an intense high, and filling the user with feelings of love and acceptance, emotions that teens crave most.

"I loved it," said Clarissa McKennie, a former Ecstasy user who said she started using the drug at the age of 13 when older friends told her it would raise her self-esteem.

Word in the school hallways is that the drug will give users a great high with low risk. It is a reputation similar to the one that cocaine enjoyed in the 1980s, when that drug's use was buoyed by widespread social acceptance and aggressive word of mouth, Marston said.

Teens view the drug as only slightly more dangerous than alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and inhalants. Though its street names make it sound benign, Ecstasy is a potent and potentially dangerous "cocktail mix of acid and speed," that can cause brain damage, Marston said.

McKennie, who is now in a long-term residential treatment program, had this warning for her peers: "It is not the fun that you seem to have when you're on it.... It's a dangerous drug."

Side Effects of ‘Love Drug’

Ecstasy, known scientifically as methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is a synthetic, psychoactive pill that induces feelings of euphoria, and has properties similar to amphetamines and hallucinogens.

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