Lieberman Calls Ecstasy Use a National Crisis

WASHINGTON – Disturbed by reports that young people and their parents are not aware of the dangers posed by the drug Ecstasy, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today called for a nationwide effort to broadcast the harm that the drug poses to America?s communities. The senator also supported closer teamwork and sharing of information and resources among the various federal, state, and local entities responsible for addressing the looming epidemic, including law enforcement agencies.

“The most important task we have before us in combating Ecstasy is to get out the word concerning the very real dangers of this drug,” the Senator warned at a Governmental Affairs Committee hearing he chaired on Ecstasy abuse and the government?s response to the problem. “I?ve learned that one out of nine High School seniors, and more than 150,000 eighth graders, have tried Ecstasy believing it has no bad effects,” Lieberman said. “Ecstasy is anything but benign. We have an obligation to warn kids and their parents about the serious harm this drug can do.”

Appearing before the Committee were two recovering teenage addicts from the Phoenix House Rehabilitation Center in Long Island, New York, who testified about the drug?s impact on their lives. Former honor student Dayna Moore, 16, said, “I was once a normal kid and Ecstasy took me down a deadly, destructive path I could never have imagined.” Philip McCarthy, 17, spoke of breaking into houses to steal television sets and VCRs to feed his habit. “Ecstasy is not a fun, light-hearted drug,” he said. “It can ruin lives. It can make you sick. It can make you do things you never would have done otherwise.”

In testimony Lieberman called “chilling,” Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, spoke of the health effects of Ecstasy use, which include “dehydration, hypertension, and even heart or kidney failure” as well as “long-lasting negative effects on the brain that can alter memory and other behaviors.”

Also testifying was Connecticut State?s Attorney John Bailey, whom Lieberman praised for “the success Connecticut has had in fighting Ecstasy through his office?s Nuisance Abatement Unit.” The unit has used laws currently on the books to temporarily close Ecstasy bars in Hartford, an approach that Lieberman agreed could serve as a model for other communities to employ in combating the Ecstasy scourge.

Representatives from the DEA, Customs Service, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Miami-Dade Police Department provided the Committee with graphic evidence of the growing scope of Ecstasy trafficking. Under questioning from Lieberman, they noted that the trade is no longer just confined to Western Europe, where the drug is largely manufactured, but is now a “worldwide” phenomenon. The agencies acknowledged the need for closer coordination and cited examples of interagency cooperation such the apprehension of the Israeli trafficker Odet Tuito in Spain and the arrest of Sammy “the Bull” Gravano in Arizona.

Miami-Dade undercover detective Roy Rutland, who spoke from behind a screen to conceal his identity, observed that because of the “astronomical profit margins” associated with the Ecstasy drug trade ? it can be produced for pennies, but sold for as much as $50 a pill ? “the traditional narco-traffickers and their source nations have assumed much of the network control” over Ecstasy, “causing multiple power struggles” and increased violence.

“This hearing supports the need to do a better job marketing the dangers of Ecstasy and to increase our drug education, research, and law enforcement efforts,” Lieberman said. “America can?t afford to wait for this drug to attack our vulnerable, younger generation.”

Lieberman is an original cosponsor of the Ecstasy Prevention Act of 2001 that would initially provide $25 million to educate youth about the negative consequences of Ecstasy use and to continue research by the National Institutes of Health into the long-term effects of the drug. Equally important, the bill calls for an Interagency Task Force to coordinate federal efforts, an idea supported by a number of the government witnesses.