Post-9/11 security cuts into Ecstasy: Youths turning to prescription drugs
April 22, 2005
USA TODAY

Ecstasy, the illegal stimulant that has helped to define the rave party culture for teens and young adults, is fading in popularity in part because post-9/11 improvements in airport security have made it tougher to smuggle the drug into the USA from Europe.

Customs and drug enforcement officials say that increased scrutiny of passengers and baggage at airports favored by smugglers -- particularly those in New York City and Newark, N.J. -- led to record seizures of Ecstasy pills in the year after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, the flow of Ecstasy into the USA has slowed dramatically as smugglers have focused more on trying to bring it here by land, usually from Canada, says Dean Boyd, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The stepped-up security, along with crackdowns on key Ecstasy traffickers, have made the drug less available and more expensive, says Bill Sherman, a section chief for the Drug Enforcement Administration's operations in Europe, Asia, Africa and Canada. In Miami during the past year, the DEA says, the average price for one Ecstasy pill has more than doubled, to more than $11.60, a sign of the drug's increasing scarcity.

The changing economics of Ecstasy is leading a rising number of youths to turn to cheaper, more available drugs. Among them: addictive prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, inhalants such as paint thinner, and methamphetamine. Two recent surveys said OxyContin and Vicodin had passed Ecstasy in popularity among teens.

Overall, drug use among teens has declined slightly in recent years, but the use of Ecstasy among high school seniors has dropped sharply since peaking in 2001. An annual report on teen drug use by University of Michigan researchers says that in 2001, 9.2% of the nation's 4.2 million high school seniors reported having used Ecstasy during the previous year. In 2004, 4% said they had done so.

The study says that in 2004, 5% of high school seniors reported having used OxyContin during the previous year. That was up from 4.5% in 2003. Five years ago, abuse of OxyContin among youths was so rare the study did not measure it. The 2004 Michigan study's overall conclusions were echoed in a survey released Thursday by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Terry Horton, medical director of Phoenix House drug treatment programs in New York, says the number of clients there who have used OxyContin and other painkillers is up, while the number who have taken Ecstasy is 'much less than we saw a year ago.'

'Kids . . . are now saying that it's not part of the 'in' thing to do,' says Horton, whose group runs programs in nine states that treat about 6,000 people a year.

Such sentiments reflect how a series of events during the past five years have splashed cold water on Ecstasy's image as a 'peace and love' drug that gives users a warm, energetic sense of well-being.

Researchers at Duke University have reported that Ecstasy causes brain and neurological damage. Media campaigns by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have emphasized that risk and have warned youths that Ecstasy could kill them. And New Orleans and other cities have used anti-nuisance laws to go after promoters and property owners who host all-night rave parties.