Web sites offer advice to Ecstasy users, complicating cops’ fight against drug
by Abigail Goldman
Sat, Mar 15, 2008 (2 a.m.)
Connoisseurs take Ecstasy tablets the way gourmets savor foie gras or wine aficionados sip reds — seriously and always with an opinion:
This pill went down easy, that pill was weak, those pills are poor quality, that pill had me perfectly pie-eyed and quivering.
In this modern age, they compare notes online. Ecstasy users from around the world use Internet forums to discuss their illegal purchases, rate their potency and post pictures of the pills they popped — a Zagat guide for the Ecstasy set.
Las Vegas prides itself on being a gourmet city, so it’s no surprise the city shows up on these sites. One Ecstasy review site, pillreports.com, has multiple entries from Vegas users alongside photos of pills purportedly taken or purchased here, each etched with a distinctive logo: a dollar sign, a dolphin, a happy face, a half note, a Playboy bunny, a McDonald’s arch — whatever a dealer can do to “brand” his drug in a boom market.
None of that is good news for Metro Police. As Ecstasy — an illegal synthetic drug with amphetamine-like and hallucinogenic properties — has taken on an even greater air of acceptance in part because of these sites, the drug has filled a void in Las Vegas left as laws combating the manufacture of methamphetamine have made that drug harder to get and more expensive, Metro Detective Bruce Gentner said.
In 2006 Metro narcotics detectives seized 4,800 grams of Ecstasy, or roughly 24,000 pills.
In 2007 they seized 45,000 grams, or about 225,000 pills. The almost tenfold difference is a matter of high-level drug dealers flooding the market, of the level of police investigations and of manufacturers’ output.
But all of those factors are rooted in one thing: the whims of drug users who come to Las Vegas to play hard, who decide what is and isn’t chic to slick their serotonin.
“All the things people are looking for when they are out in the party scene,” Gentner said — the euphoria, the release — the ecstasy — “it has.”
“A tourist that comes to our town,” he said, “it’s pretty easy to say that if they ask for it, they can get it.”
And when they come to town, they often come educated by Web sites giving the drug even greater acceptance.
One pillreports.com user wrote that he dropped two pills at a local nightclub and his jaw quivered for a couple of hours. Another user said he dropped Ecstasy at work. A third user bought Ecstasy pills imprinted with an image of Buddha and explained the bright yellow tablets were part of her vacation plans.
Users identify themselves with Internet handles, revealing only the city they claim to have taken the drug in, so the process is anonymous. They often photograph their pills alongside pennies, or packs of cigarettes, or CD covers, for purposes of scale.
They give detailed accounts of color — purple with white flecks, blue with dark blue floaters, muddy purple. And they’re forbidden from naming the precise location where they took the drug because venue owners have asked this favor of site users, according to pillreports.com spokesman Johnboy Davidson.
E-mailing from Australia, where the site is based, Davidson wrote: “If some muppet goes ‘I bought these pills at such and such club,’ that club can get raided. This isn’t theoretical, it has happened.”
The Venetian’s C2K club closed in August 2000 after casino executives put the squeeze on club licensees because of reported rampant Ecstasy use and fights and other violence. One of the Las Vegas Valley’s most publicized Ecstasy deaths occurred when Danielle Herd of Henderson took pills before she went to C2K, started feeling bad, and eventually died of an overdose.
Pillreports is trying to prevent this kind of tragedy, Davidson said. The site’s stated purpose is “harm reduction” — a simple catchphrase that masks a controversial concept:
People are going to use Ecstasy, so why not help them use it intelligently?
For every 20 reports about good Ecstasy experiences, Davidson said, there is one from a user who got sick.
Police aren’t fans of such sites. Gentner called them “pro-drug.”
In the coming weeks, Gentner and fellow Metro officers will be holding training seminars for casino nightclub owners, teaching them, among other things, how to recognize a person using Ecstasy or selling Ecstasy. Gentner will hold the seminars with representatives of the state Gaming Control Board as well as the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Narcotics detectives test the Ecstasy they confiscate for methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, the synthetic stimulant and mood enhancer in the pills. The more MDMA, the purer the pill, and detectives have found their share of strong pills. But they’ve also found fakes — compact pellets made of nothing more than pill-binding chemicals and powdery substances.
Police trace the pills in Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and from there to the Netherlands and other European countries and to Thailand and China, Gentner said. In these countries, sophisticated pill-pressing machines aren’t closely regulated.
Once Ecstasy tablets land in Las Vegas, they sell for about $20 each, Gentner said. Local drug investigations cover everyone from low-level sellers pushing from five to 100 pills a day, to drug ring fat cats distributing thousands throughout the valley.
One recent investigation revealed that members of Chinese organized crime were doling out the drug to smaller dealers, Gentner said.
And there are secondary profits to be made as well, by white-collar types who probably wouldn’t admit it.
It’s common knowledge in the nightclub world that Ecstasy users try to drink lots of water, fearing the drug will dehydrate them. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that local clubs where detectives are certain the drug was being taken increased the price of their bottled water. Whether club management knows why its water sells so well is an entirely different matter — one nobody wants to touch.