Drug Ecstacy worries board members

Officials push to find out extent of Ecstacy use in Juneau schools

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001

Two Juneau School Board members have told civic leaders there is growing concern many local kids are using Ecstasy, a mind-altering drug linked to brain damage.

School board members Deana Darnall and Stan Ridgeway urged the mayor and others at an informal meeting Friday to assemble a task force to determine whether teen use of the illegal drug is widespread here.

"The word is Ecstacy is everywhere, it's really easy to get," said Darnall, who works at the Juneau-Douglas High School Teen Health Center.

"It's an issue. It's a big issue," said Ridgeway after the meeting. "Whether it's of the magnitude we think it is, that might be another story."

Ridgeway said reports of Ecstasy use are coming from "a lot of different sources" but declined to say more for fear of discouraging would-be informants.

Darnall is basing her suspicions on a couple things. Darnall said she interviewed a teen-age girl last week who admitted all her friends were using it and that most students seemed to have access to it. Also, Darnall said the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among local teens is up, and she's concerned it's linked to Ecstacy, which is purported to break down sexual inhibitions.

"I'm seeing chlamydia and new gonorrhea outbreaks as well as a lot of the other sexually transmitted diseases that we see a lot of - but we're seeing more of them," said Darnall, a nurse practitioner.

A local drug enforcement officer said he has heard from anonymous sources the drug is commonly used at dances and the high school, but police have not found any evidence of Ecstasy in Juneau or anywhere else in Southeast. However, that doesn't mean it's not here, said Sgt. Ray Culbreth of the Southeast Alaska Narcotic Enforcement Team, or SEANET.

"My feeling is it is in Southeast. Just how rooted it is - it's difficult to say," Culbreth said.

None of the anonymous informants has been explicit enough to lead police to a user or supplier, and short of a solid lead, it's difficult to make an Ecstasy bust, said Culbreth, adding it's easier to detect kids using alcohol or marijuana because those substances have distinctive odors. Ecstasy doesn't have an odor and the aspirin-size pills are easy to hide from authorities, he said.

However, Culbreth questioned whether most teens could afford to buy the drug. A single pill purchased in Juneau would cost $50 to $80, said Culbreth, noting it's possible kids are unwittingly buying caffeine pills passed off as inexpensive Ecstasy. High Times magazine sells a caffeine pill called X Tablets for about $19 a bottle.

"The purchaser is maybe naive enough to think it's Ecstacy, or someone else is (getting) it and selling it as Ecstasy," Culbreth said.

Law enforcement first identified the drug as a problem in the early 1990s, said Culbreth, adding it is manufactured predominately in Europe. Ecstasy is a synthetic drug similar to methamphetamine, which is known to cause brain damage, according to the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency. When researchers exposed monkeys to Ecstasy for four days, it caused brain damage that was evident six to seven days later, the agency said. Other health hazards include severe anxiety, depression, involuntary teeth clenching, high blood pressure and rapid heart beat.

The agency said the drug is used most often by young adults and adolescents at clubs and all-night dance parties. That's because dance clubs usually are warm inside, said Culbreth, the drug enforcement officer.

"The body temperature rises and enhances the intoxicating effect of the substance," said Culbreth, adding some clubs distribute pacifiers to counter the side effects, including teeth-clenching and muscle cramping.

Ridgeway, the school board member, told civic leaders Ecstasy was first noticed just before Christmas at a dance called Snow Ball.

"There's a lot going on right now and we need help from community leaders," Ridgeway said.

At Friday's meeting, Mayor Sally Smith said she probably will ask an existing youth task force to gather more information on the issue.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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