20/20 Downtown: Ecstasy Copycats

ByABC News
September 27, 2000, 7:40 PM

Oct. 2 -- Ecstasy is dangerous and illegal in its own right, but its the knockoffs of the popular drug that are garnering public attention and raising concern.

Amid reports last week that copycats of the drug are responsible for at least nine deaths across the country since May, DanceSafe, a nonprofit organization that tests pills for Ecstasy and its often more dangerous copycats is in the spotlight.

Ecstasy is a psycho-active or mind-altering compound that usually comes in pill form; its one of the hottest drugs on the market. Law enforcement officials say they seized 12 million pills last year, up from 200 pills just six years ago. While many users say Ecstasy leads to feelings of joy, euphoria and elation, some say it can also cause brain damage, memory loss, unconsciousness, tremors, chills, dehydration and overheating, which can lead to death.

DanceSafe or Sorry?

DanceSafe, which is headquartered in Oakland, Calif., has 10 local chapters throughout the country and plans on opening 20 more. Volunteers for the group show up at nightclubs and all-night rave parties, where they offer pill testing services for Ecstasy users. Real Ecstasy is MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). But many pills that are sold as Ecstasy do not actually contain MDMA, and may have components like PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) or DXM (dextromethorphan), which can be more lethal.

The fake pills are often times more likely to kill you, says Emanuel Sferios, who founded DanceSafe last year. We screen against fake pills and have successfully prevented thousands of young people from swallowing pills that didnt contain Ecstasy and had more dangerous substances.

But the program has drawn fire from parents and drug enforcement officials, who say DanceSafes mission ignores the dangers of Ecstasy itself.

What kind of message are we sending the kids? asks Steve Casteel, chief intelligence officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration. While he believes that DanceSafe does recognize that Ecstasy is dangerous, he thinks the tests performed by the organization are unreliable, inconclusive and misleading. Im really concerned about the false sense of security that DanceSafe brings, he says. The message they deliver by having the word safe in their title is a false one.