Drug on rebound, being smuggled in
Fewer kids are afraid of ecstasy.
And the drug dealers know it.
That’s what federal drug authorities, researchers and prosecutors say they believe is driving a comeback of ecstasy, the once-popular party drug that’s seeping back into Detroit by the truckloads.
Federal drug authorities say that in recent years, they’ve witnessed an uptick in ecstasy seizures involving not just more pills, but bigger dealers.
Ecstasy busts used to involve relatively small-scale dealers peddling a few hundred pills in a baggie. Now, ecstasy is creeping in via well-organized trafficking networks, with some Canadian truckers getting nabbed at the border with tens of thousands of pills, authorities say.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed is that the drugs are once again ending up in the hands of teenagers, officials say.
Recent national statistics, published by both the University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show that a higher percentage of teenagers are using ecstasy, overall ecstasy use is up among all people ages 12 and older, and that fewer young people fear that the drug is harmful.
“Given the glamorous name and reputation of this drug, I could easily imagine it making a comeback,” U-M senior researcher Lloyd Johnston said.
Make no mistake, drug authorities and prosecutors say, ecstasy is back.
“It’s coming back, and coming back strongly,” said Rich Isaacson, a special agent with the Drug and Enforcement Administration’s Detroit field division. “It’s one of those things that without keeping a finger or an eye on it, it’ll come back even stronger than it was in the rave party era.”
Pills being smuggled across border, feds say
Ecstasy, the euphoria-enhancing rave drug of the '90s, is back. Only this time, it's a slightly tweaked and more potent pill made in so-called super labs in Canada, federal drug authorities say. Massive amounts of ecstasy pills are creeping into Detroit from Canada, with seizures now netting hundreds of thousands of pills, largely sneaked in by Canadian truckers. In the past, authorities say, ecstasy couriers were smaller dealers peddling tablets in baggies.
"Our typical courier used to be a suburban female bringing over a couple thousand pills. We're now seeing well-organized drug traffickers, involving Canadian truck drivers," said Daniel Lemisch, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, noting that commercial truck drivers are often willing participants.
And they've made Detroit their ecstasy "source city" because of the border, he said.
"We're the first stop on the line for ecstasy coming in," Lemisch said. "It all gets funneled through our district because of the bridges and tunnels."
He also noted that not all Canadian truck drivers are couriers.
As the volume of drugs is getting bigger, statistics show that fewer kids are afraid of the risks of ecstasy, resulting in more teens using it.
Use up, fear down
According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released last month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the percentage of teenage ecstasy users has almost doubled in recent years.
From 2004 to 2007, the percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds who used ecstasy remained at 0.3%, but increased to 0.5% in 2009. Overall, the number of total ecstasy users 12 years and older has increased by more than 50% over the years, from 450,000 users in 2004 to 760,000 in 2009.
Meanwhile, the perceived risk associated with ecstasy among teenagers has been in decline for several years. According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, a government-funded teenage drug study conducted by the University of Michigan, in 2008, 43.2% of 10th-graders were afraid to try ecstasy once; by 2009, the number dropped to 38.9%.
"I think what's going on is what I call 'generational forgetting,' " said U-M researcher Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the study, who explained that today's youths simply don't know and haven't seen how dangerous ecstasy can be. "The newer generation doesn't have the experience or the knowledge that their predecessors did.
"That makes them very vulnerable to using it."
It's that generational forgetting that's keeping the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and border agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security busy.
Federal agents said that in recent years, they've witnessed major ecstasy busts at the border, the bulk of them involving Canadian truck drivers.
Tiny pills, big busts
On Sept. 25, at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, agents seized more than 80,000 ecstasy pills that were hidden in the walls of a tractor trailer.
On June 6, at the Blue Water Bridge, border agents seized more than 250,000 ecstasy tablets, valued at $4 million, that were hidden in a truck carrying a shipment of health and beauty products bound for Texas. The driver, a 24-year-old Canadian from Ontario, was turned over for further investigation.
On April 23, border agents discovered more than 9,000 pills taped to the legs of a Sterling Heights man who told officers that he was returning home from the casino. He was turned over for prosecution.
On June 29, border officers at the Ambassador Bridge seized 5 kilograms of ecstasy pills that were hidden in the bumper of a car.
"I think we're kind of letting our guard down on these drugs," Lemisch said. "I think people underestimate the harmfulness of this drug."
In a recent undercover operation in Illinois, local and federal police arrested four Michigan residents -- all from metro Detroit -- on drug charges involving ecstasy. Authorities said they seized 1,700 ecstasy tablets from the group, with an estimated street value of $34,000.
Rich Isaacson, special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Detroit field division, said while bigger loads of ecstasy are making their way into the Midwest, much of what's being sold isn't actually ecstasy, but a combo pill mixed with other chemicals, including: Benzylpiperazine (BZP) -- a recreational drug with euphoric, stimulant properties -- and 3-Trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP), also a recreational drug
The tweaked ingredients make the drug more potent, but just as dangerous -- and potentially deadly -- as the '90s version.
"Today's ... teenagers don't realize how dangerous ecstasy is," he said.
BY TRESA BALDAS
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Posted: Oct. 3, 2010
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