Ecstasy use in college


Angela Bray
Journal Staff

This article is part 1 of 2 in a story concerning ecstasy use among college students. All students quoted used pseudonyms for anonymity. All schools and class years are accurate.

Ecstasy, commonly known as the club drug, appears to be growing as a popular drug, with users claiming it increases energy and comfort. Suffolk students are among the many hundreds of Boston area college students using it, interviews and surveys indicate.

Experts note ecstasy is a highly dangerous drug, and any increase of its use on college campuses is a disturbing trend.

The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings found the rate of current use of illicit drugs, among persons aged 18 to 22, to be 20.2 percent among full-time college students. The rate among others of that age group, including part-time college students, students in other grades or types of institutions, and nonstudents, was 21.9 percent. Results of the same study showed an increase from 2007 to 2008 in the current rate of hallucinogen use among full-time college students aged 18 to 22, which was 1.0 to 2.1 percent.

The specific use of ecstasy increased from 0.5 to 1.2 percent, according to the survey. Although this is a small percentage, it is a significant increase of over 50 percent.

On October 15, a former Suffolk campus police officer was sentenced to serve 14 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute ecstasy and methamphetamine. Richard Trong Ong, 37 of Quincy, was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute “tens of thousands of methamphetamine-laced ecstasy pills in the Boston area,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney office in Georgia. Ong was convicted on August 22, 2008. He conspired with Canadian citizen Chiem Mach, an Atlanta-based drug leader.

Ong was dismissed from Suffolk University in August 2005, shortly after his arrest on federal charges of receiving delivery of 40,000 ecstasy tablets.

There is no known evidence that Ong distributed ecstasy to any Suffolk students.

Illegal in the United States as well as other countries, ecstasy, or MDMA, has the ability to affect users with increased heart rate, long-term brain damage, heart failure, kidney failure, and even death. Additional negative effects can include dizziness, overheating, anxiety, and short-term memory scramble or loss.

A senior at Suffolk said ecstasy is not for her. “Personally, I’m not a fan of sweating profusely and grinding my teeth at night.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention’s study, “Campuses and the Club Drug Ecstasy” byAmy Powell, covers where and why college students use ecstasy. According to the piece, “the designer drug ecstasy has generated both curiosity and concern in recent years” among college students.

The drug is most commonly found in tablet (pill) form, yet is also found as powder or in capsules. It may be taken orally or snorted. As a disreputable street drug, ecstasy pills are unreliable in content, meaning they can possibly contain anything from MDA (3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine) to ephedrine and amphetamines.

Several Suffolk students declined to comment, despite reassurance of anonymity.

“You’re always taking a chance when you buy [ecstasy] because you don’t always know what’s in it,” said Ryan, a junior at Suffolk. “It is sometimes a mix between speed and MDMA. I’ve seen it cut with heroin; I’ve seen it cut with cocaine.” Ryan casually tried it for the first time with a few friends, and said it felt “awesome.”

Unlike alcohol, according to users, ecstasy doesn’t cause one to forget what he or she did the night prior. “It doesn’t black you out at all. You’re in full control of your body. You can do tons of stuff,” claimed Ryan.

“You don’t forget anything. It’s not alcohol. The next day, you remember what you did,” added Steve, a sophomore at Northeastern University. He insisted when taking ecstasy, “you’re experiencing a sense of truth.”

College-age users may refer to the experience as rolling, X-ing, wigging, or tripping.

Steve said he has done the drug twice so far in college, the first time with his girlfriend when she was pressured. “I didn’t feel too much. I was uncomfortable with it, I was stressed. I could tell I was on something but didn’t feel the full effect.”

“The second time was a party where everyone was doing it. I was in a comfortable place, and it felt amazing.” Steve said he will do it in that second scenario. “It’s everything. In your head, you’re happy with the position you’re in. Physically, things around you feel good, familiar. You feel what it is and enjoy it.”

As blissful and enchanting as a standard trip may feel, users claim, the ending hit of depression dampens the effect. “It gives you a feeling of euphoria for four or five hours, but then you feel like shit when it’s over,” said Ryan. “You feel depressed. You shouldn’t take it if you’re already depressed. You’ll just feel worse.”

Ecstasy is reported among users to sexually arouse, and many college students use it for this specific effect.  “They say it makes sex feel the best,” said Suffolk sophomore Meg.

“It’s a love drug,” maintained Steve. “Ecstasy is used by guys to meet girls. It makes you want to do things college kids want to do. You do things that otherwise wouldn’t make sense, but you remember it the next day.”

“I know a lot more guys who take it than girls,” said Sarah, a Suffolk sophomore. Sarah said she has not tried it herself, yet she knows Suffolk students who have. “Maybe it’s because they need it to feel more outgoing to get girls. It’s easier for a girl to get a guy.”

Elizabeth Drexler-Hines, MPH, CHES and assistant director of Health & Wellness Services at Suffolk, said she has not had to deal with any students bringing in ecstasy-related issues. “I’ve heard about it,” she said. “It’s on the radar, yet not the top thing addressed.”

She cited a survey conducted among Suffolk students last semester. One part asked about students’ use of ecstasy within the last 30 days. The results: 90.5 percent reported never having used, 8.3 percent had used, but not in the time frame 30 days prior to the survey date. And 0.5 percent had used the drug in the past one or two days.

It isn’t uncommon for those who use ecstasy to have tried it for the first time before entering college. According to the 2006 Monitoring the Future Survey, 1.4 percent of 8th graders admit to using the drug in the past year, with 4.1 percent of 12th graders admitting past-year use.

Craig, a sophomore at Suffolk, said his first experience was at age 16 when hanging out at a friend’s house. “It’s fun and you feel really good,” he claimed. “I usually end up going to a party.”

However, Craig said his use throughout high school was much more frequent than it is now in college.

Craig said he believes many of the wealthier Suffolk students use ecstasy. “They do because they’re rich Suffolk kids who have nothing better to do than spend their parents’ money on random drugs.”

Matt, a 19-year-old sophomore at Suffolk, said he first tried ecstasy at age 18 at a party in Allston. Matt said he does it “for fun, just because.” He said he goes to parties and goes on far walks during a trip. “It’s fun, interesting and makes you feel great inside. Overall just a happier person.”

The lure of ecstasy has raised the curiosity among college students. Meg and Sarah both said they have considered trying it.

Chris, a recent graduate of Bentley University, said, “I did every other drug. I don’t know why I didn’t do ecstasy.”