Sept. 6, 2013— -- Investigators in three East Coast cities are trying to determine whether a string of recent deaths are tied to the party drug Molly and experts warn that the drug could be contaminated or completely counterfeit.
The overdose death of Mary "Shelley" Goldsmith, 19, is the latest to be possibly tied to Molly. Goldsmith reportedly took the drug before she collapsed and died at a club in Washington, D.C. early Sunday morning, according to the Washington Post.
Police in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. told ABCNews.com that they are waiting for toxicology reports to determine what substances were in the victims' systems before they died.
"There is no good batch of molly," said Erin Mulvey, a spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA is offering support to local law enforcement as they investigate the deaths in the three cities. "These deaths unfortunately show the end result of what can happen when someone takes what they think is Molly."
Drug dealers have marketed Molly as pure MDMA, the main lab-manufactured ingredient in Ecstasy. But like any illegal drug, you never know what it's cut with – or if it's completely counterfeit, Mulvey said.
In Molly, the MDMA has been cut with everything from baby powder to rat poison, she said. But more often than not, Molly isn't MDMA at all. Instead, it's often methylone, a similar and equally deadly substance.
"There's nothing pure about it," Mulvey said. "Kids are taking it, and they just think it's Molly, but they really have no idea until a chemist can analyze what's in it."
Dr. Ronald Cowan, a psychiatry professor at Vanderbilt University who studies MDMA, said even the purest MDMA isn't safe.
The synthetic drug, popular at clubs and music festivals, boosts three chemicals in the brain: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, he said. Someone who takes it will feel happy, experience mild hallucinations and feel like touching people around him or her.
Although it's considered rare, death from pure MDMA can happen several ways, Cowan said. It can cause blood vessels in the heart and brain to constrict and result in a stroke or heart attack. The stimulant, which raises the user's blood pressure and heart rate, can also cause the body to get severely overheated, causing fatal brain damage. Finally, it can cause blood sodium to drop, prompting the brain to swell and resulting in a fatal seizure. Dehydration and over-hydration are also common.
Cowan said some of his research subjects have taken the drug thousands of times and never had a bad reaction. Others have taken one dose and died.
Still, he called four deaths on the east coast in one weekend "unusual."
"It might suggest either the use of the drug is going up quite a bit," he said. "Or potentially the drug being marketed as Molly contains something else potentially more toxic than MDMA alone."