Marijuana, cocaine have
abusive company: Ecstasy, meth and prescription painkillers
By John W. Kennedy (September
The good news in the
campaign against illegal drugs is that fewer Americans are using
cocaine and crack compared to the epidemic two decades ago. The
bad news is that a host of other equally addictive, often less expensive,
illegal drugs are available and being used by ever younger abusers
eager to participate in social fads.
With tighter security
reducing the flow of some longtime drugs at the nations borders,
users today are turning to new sources for highs, from crudely crafted
backwoods laboratories to falsified prescriptions.
There are myriad paths
to abuse. "With the rise of the chemical drug trade, the game has
changed dramatically," Howard Simon, spokesman for Partnership for
a Drug-Free America in New York City, told PE Report. "Its
no longer what you can grow or what you can bring into the country.
Now someone with a knowledge of chemistry can tweak a molecule and
an existing drug can be transformed into something totally different."
spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy in Rockville, Md., says 4.5 million people have drug dependency
problems, 23 percent of those being teenagers. "Weve never
had a teen population with such a high rate of dependency before,"
The steepest climb has
been in Ecstasy, a synthetic pill made of a compound called MDMA.
Teen use rose 20 percent last year. Although the pill costs under
a dollar to produce, a dose sells for $10 to $40 on the street.
Ecstasy has become the
most popular "recreational" drug. It has branched from suburban
nightclubs in the mid-1980s to mainstream society. A Partnership
for a Drug-Free America survey last year found that 12 percent of
teenagers had tried the drug.
"Ecstasy has moved beyond
the rave scene and late-night parties into schools and neighborhoods,"
DeVallance, 32, told PE Report.
Ecstasy has a chemical
structure that contains both amphetamine-like and hallucinogenic
properties. It has caused as many as 41 deaths a year. The pill,
which increases heart rate and body temperature, also can cause
heart, liver or brain damage.
But Simon, 34, says many
people in a society accustomed to taking pain medication for various
ailments dont recognize the potential danger of popping several
Ecstasy pills a night. "Its not something you shoot, snort
or smoke," he says.
OxyContin has been on
the market for only six years but it has become the most abused
prescription drug in America. Nationwide, dozens of pharmacies have
been robbed to obtain OxyContin, originally designed to be a 12-hour
dose for cancer patients in severe pain. "Some enterprising folks
found if they crushed the pill designed as a time-released drug
they could snort the powder and get the impact all at once," Simon
says. "It provides a heroin-like high."
Last year, Newsweek described
how the town of Hazard, Ky., got hooked on the painkiller, known
as "hillbilly heroin." But Paul E. Hamon, pastor of Victory Assembly
of God in Hazard, says the town of 4,800 isnt unique. "Im
not saying we dont have a drug problem, but its no worse
than Louisville or New York City," Hamon says. "Oxy is not just
an eastern Kentucky problem. Its a national problem."
Its also a younger
problem. For instance, in July seven students at a Cadillac, Mich.,
junior high school pleaded guilty to possessing or distributing
Other drugs are impacting
younger lives. The average age of first-time marijuana users has
dropped to 13 from 19 in the past generation. Chris Barbre smoked
marijuana for a while and told himself he would never use anything
harder. But by age 17 he wanted to try something new and a cousin
offered him methamphetamine, a white odorless crystalline powder
psychostimulant that can be smoked, swallowed, injected or snorted.
"I was scared at first,
but I was curious," says Barbre, then of New Madrid, Mo., population
3,300. "Everybody seemed to be using it and I wanted to get the
Soon he began stealing
anhydrous ammonia from farms to make methamphetamine for a friend.
Then he began to work alone. "I figured I might as well go into
business for myself once I knew how to do it," says Barbre, now
23. "A 14-year-old can mix it up. Its not hard at all." Methamphetamine
sells for between $40 to $330 a gram.
After a couple of arrests
for manufacturing and using meth, Barbre enrolled in the Teen Challenge
program in Hot Springs, Ark. Arkansas is the nations top per
capita producer and distributor of meth, although clandestine labs
of dangerous chemicals can be found throughout the country. Of the
four dozen residents at the Teen Challenge center, three-fourths
had meth addictions.
Rural America has more
of a drug problem in some cases than urban communities. A recent
study by Columbia Universitys Center on Addiction and Substance
Abuse found that eighth graders in rural American communities are
104 percent more likely than urban counterparts to use amphetamines.
Barbre, who graduated
at Teen Challenge two years ago and now is on staff with hopes of
becoming an evangelist, didnt count on the addictive nature
of meth. "I didnt see any way out," he says. "It will overtake
you eventually. When it has you, the only hope for help is Jesus
Not all the news is bad.
Since 1985, regular illegal drug use by Americans has dropped. But
the war against drugs is far from over.
"The largest drug threat
is still marijuana, followed by cocaine," DeVallance says. The fight
against marijuana is increasingly difficult because many view it
as harmless. In a Gallup poll last year, 34 percent of Americans
(more than in any previous poll) indicated they favor legalization
of marijuana. In fact, a Partnership for Drug-Free America survey
in 2000 found that 20 percent of teens had shared drugs with their
Prevention is certainly
possible. "Surveys show that parents are the number one factor in
preventing teenage drug abuse," DeVallance says.
"Parents have a tremendous
influence on their kids," Simon agrees. "Those who learn about drug
risks at home are less likely to use. Even if your kids are rolling
their eyes, shrugging their shoulders and looking like theyre
tuning you out, the reality is the message is getting through."