DEAR ABBY: Please alert your readers to a problem of grave concern. (No pun intended.) "Club drugs" are becoming the "rave" with teens and young adults at all-night dance parties across the country. While those who use Ecstasy, GHB, Rohypnol -- to name only a few of these drugs -- may think they have no side effects, the reality is that these drugs are potentially life-threatening. Whether kids knowingly use these drugs or have them surreptitiously slipped into their drinks at "rave" parties, they can produce a range of effects -- including hallucinations, paranoia, amnesia and even death.
Ecstasy, which goes by several names including "X," "Adam" and "MDMA," is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. People may use Ecstasy for energy to keep on dancing and improve their mood. However, this drug increases the heart rate and body temperature, occasionally to the point of heart and kidney failure. It also appears to diminish the sense of thirst, and Ecstasy users have died from acute dehydration.
In addition, brain-imaging studies have shown that frequent Ecstasy use may damage brain cells that produce serotonin, a natural chemical that is partly responsible for memory and mood. It is still not known if these cells can regenerate, so the memory loss -- and perhaps additional, still-to-be discovered serotonin-related impairments -- may be long-lasting or permanent.
GHB ("G," "liquid Ecstasy") and Rohypnol ("roofie," "Roche") have been associated with "date rape" and sexual assault cases around the country. These two drugs, which are colorless, odorless and tasteless, have been easily slipped in the drinks of unknowing victims. Because both GHB and Rohypnol cause sedation and produce amnesia, they often prevent a sexual assault victim from identifying and successfully prosecuting the perpetrator.
Widespread use of Ecstasy, GHB and Rohypnol is relatively recent. The worst effects of these drugs may be the ones that are not yet known. Researchers, supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, are studying "club drugs" with a sense of urgency. Although we still have much to learn about the effects of these drugs, we already know that they can be extremely harmful.
On Dec. 2, we will launch a National Club Drug Initiative that will include issuing a Community Drug Alert Bulletin explaining what science says about the effects of these drugs. In addition, we will be working with several national organizations to get the word out to parents, teens and others about the dangers of these drugs. We also have information about these and other drugs on our Web site at www.drugabuse.gov. Or, your readers can call (800) 729-6686 to request free copies of these materials. Thank you for your help in getting the word out, Abby. -- ALAN I. LESHNER, Ph.D., DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF DRUG ABUSE
DEAR DR. LESHNER: I applaud your research, and I'm pleased to help.
When will people learn that there is no free lunch? There is a price to pay for every mood-altering chemical people put into their bodies. One can only hope that the substance is not addictive and the effects aren't permanent. Years ago, many people thought that cocaine was not addictive. Then fortunes were lost and lives were ruined or lost when the opposite turned out to be true.
I hope your Web site will be visited by people of all ages. Young people need to know everything they can about what they are putting into their bodies so they can make informed judgments. And as to the "date rape" drugs -- it has reached the point that people should not drink beverages at clubs or parties unless they have opened the container themselves and had the beverages in their possession AT ALL TIMES.