Drug 'ecstasy' doesn't respect demographics

Gwen Brower remembers feeling unnerved when she learned the sinister connotations behind youth-speak terms such as "ecstasy" and "rave party."

Sister Brown — Young Women president in the Hunter Central Utah Stake — had been assigned to attend a recent Salt Lake-area conference examining the growing problem of ecstasy usage among young people. The conference also looked at rave parties — the common forum for the illicit drug's use and distribution. For Sister Brower, the conference offered an unsettling education.

"I was ignorant to what a rave party even was," she said.

Indeed, many parents and Church leaders are playing catch-up — scrambling to learn more about ecstasy and its culture. They want to protect their children.

Ecstasy is a synthetic, psychoactive drug possessing stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. It has been produced for decades but did not become popular as an illicit drug until the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is frequently used in combination with other drugs and often sold or handed out at late-night parties — or raves — and at nightclubs and rock concerts. As the rave and club scene expands to metropolitan and suburban areas across the United States, the use and distribution of ecstasy is increasing as well, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Ecstasy is taken in capsule or tablet form and typically produces of mixture of profoundly positive feelings and relaxation. While it is not as addictive as heroine or cocaine, ecstasy can cause several adverse effects including hallucinations and increases in body temperature. Users also report after-effects such as anxiety, paranoia and depression. Ecstasy overdoses can be fatal, according to the DEA.

While the dangers of ecstasy have been reported in the media for several years, the drug's threat to LDS youth became clear via a pair of talks delivered last year by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

In addresses at a General Relief Society Meeting and a subsequent priesthood session of general conference, President Hinckley warned of rave parties where ecstasy use is common.

"Here, with flashing lights and noisy music, if it can be called that, young men and women dance and sway. They sell and buy drugs. The drugs are called ecstasy. They are a derivative of methamphetamine. The dancers suck on babies' pacifiers because the drug makes them grind their teeth. The hot music and the sultry dancing goes on until 7:30 of a Sunday morning.

"What does it all lead to?" President Hinckley asked. "Nowhere. It is a dead end."

Officer Rob Hall, a detective with the Murray Utah Police Department, said ecstasy users are often young people who abuse alcohol or other illicit drugs. Church members remain vulnerable.

"Ecstasy, like any drug, doesn't really respect any demographic," Officer Hall said.

His advice to parents is simple: Enlist some common sense — know where your children are, who they are with and what they are doing.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.) — which has educated tens of millions of school children about the dangers of drugs — suggests in its web site that parents first take steps to keep their children off "gateway" drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Their advice is seconded by government agencies.

A report from the U.S. Department of Education said tobacco use is associated with alcohol and illicit drug use "and is generally the first drug used by young people who enter a sequence of drug use that can include tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs."

General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), the former director of the U.S. national drug control policy, has added parents can watch for several warnings signs of potential drug use by their children, including a drop in school performance; lack of interest in personal appearance; withdrawal, isolation, depression or fatigue; aggressive, rebellious behavior; change in friends; loss of interest in hobbies or sports; and changes in eating and sleeping habits.

D.A.R.E. also said parents can help keep their kids away from dangerous substances such as alcohol and drugs by first being an exemplary role models, establishing clear communication between parent and child and offering loving but firm advice with clear boundaries and consequences by setting down firm guidelines.

Sister Brower now speaks to the young people in her stake about the dangers of ecstasy and its culture. Her message is also direct.

"It's a good thing to stay clear of."

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