THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY
'E" is back in the news - that's Ecstasy, the feel-good party drug. It's also known in the youthful drug culture as "Blue Kisses," the "Hug Drug," "Love Pill" or, simply, "X."
A recent article in the Daily News lauded the interception by the feds of two shipments of 230,000 methamphetamine-laced Ecstasy pills headed for the Philadelphia area. Although this represents a significant number of "trips" that will not be taken, it is also a wake-up call that too many kids are still enamored of mind-altering drugs.
Ecstasy ( methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA ) is a synthetic psychoactive drug with amphetaminelike and hallucinogenic properties. "E" was invented in 1912 and used primarily as an appetite suppressant. In the 1970s, young people started using it recreationally. It returned to favor in the 1990s with the rise of the club-drug culture, and all-night dances, or "raves."
But Ecstasy is more than an energizing force for all-night partying. It also decreases anxiety and produces a calming effect - understandably appealing to teens immersed in the emotional and hormonal angst of adolescence.
Many Ecstasy users say the insights revealed in their first experience motivated them to change their lives and pursue inner dreams. They point to a feeling of oneness with people and nature.
As with cocaine, the intensity, insight and power of the first high is rarely repeated. And the high is often followed by depression and difficulty with memory that may last up to a week.
Research suggests that repeated use leads to problems with sleep, mood and anxiety, as well as increased impulsiveness, and attention or memory problems. Some investigators report that these effects may continue up to two years after the drug is stopped.
But few teens are future-oriented enough to seriously consider long-term effects of drug misuse, and many simply dismiss Ecstasy's "bad press" as more evidence of the generation gap.
If we are to help our kids successfully navigate adolescence we must do more than issue dire warnings about drugs or admonish them against disobedience. We must offer accurate information, act as role models and communicate with empathy.
Our kids should be aware, for example, that "E" users at a rave are at risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration and must drink plenty of water. They should realize that street-made "E" can vary in quality, contain harmful ingredients and may not contain MDMA. They should know basic first aid for adverse drug reactions - in themselves and in peers - and the importance of calling 911 under such circumstances.
And health-program information must be reinforced at home. Even the best lessons can be negated by parents or older siblings who model risk-taking behavior by using or abusing alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
Lastly, all conversations about Ecstasy should be grounded in adult empathy, rather than judgment. This is particularly important if a teen is caught using it.
The surest way to show empathy is to remember the turbulence and rebellion of your own teen years, even if drugs never played a part. Perhaps your own adolescent limit-testing involved underage driving, sneaking into the house after curfew or dating the "wrong" person. How did the adults in your life treat your transgressions? What kind of adult-teen conversations would have been helpful to you?
Armed with such perspective, we can help our kids avoid harm and learn from their mistakes.
Not only will they make better decisions with regard to Ecstasy, they also are more likely to come to us with regard to other key events in their teen and adult years.