PARTY PILL' PRODUCTION ON RISE IN YORK REGION Ecstasy Labs Follow Pot Houses To York They simply call it "E" and some York Region students say it's as easy to find as a pen and pad in the halls of area high schools. "If you want ecstasy, you'd have to talk to maybe a maximum of two people and you can find it," said Alex O'Gleman, a student at Brother Andre Catholic High School in Markham. "If it's weed you want, maybe one." "And it's like that at every school," added Brian Sanford, a former student of Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School in Unionville. Trudeau High is one block from the Brunswick Street home where police and fire crews stumbled on a large quantity of ecstasy and a pill press used to help manufacture the drug during a routine kitchen fire call this week. It's also within a few kilometres of the Manhattan Drive garage where $10 million worth of ecstasy and the chemicals used to make it were discovered by firefighters responding to a call about smoke billowing from inside. Ecstasy, which is known to produce a feeling of euphoria and render its users very responsive to touch, is popular at rave parties and dance clubs. Its use has been linked to several deaths at raves and several studies, while often disputed, say long term effects of prolonged use may include brain and or spinal cord damage. "It's a party pill," said Harry Capulong, who lives in the neighbourhood near the two drug manufacturing operations. "Ravers, party people, they're doing it every weekend. It's pretty widespread. But it's definitely a Friday and Saturday night drug." In its purest form, ecstasy is MDMA, a drug reportedly once used as a psychoanalytical tool and a truth serum by the United States military, although it never really worked. It gained its first bit of popularity as a recreational drug in the disco scene of the 1970s and became attached to the rave scene in Europe in the early 1990s before widespread use began in Canada. These days, any number of even more dangerous drugs are being sold as ecstasy, including speed, LSD, heroine, ephedrine and ketamine. Police know it's at local schools, clubs and raves and say it sells for anywhere from $25 to $45 a hit. And despite the fact the two clandestine labs shut down this week are just the fifth and sixth found in the region since 2000, York Regional Police drugs and vice officers said criminals looking to turn a quick profit are producing ecstasy in York Region in ever inc reasing numbers. "We know it's around," said Det. Sgt. Karen Noakes. "Much like the marijuana grow ops, they started out west and have now moved here. We know ecstasy labs are a growing trend out there and are starting to come out this way as well." Marijuana grow houses, 89 of which were found in the region in the first six months of this year, compared to 173 last year, are a little easier to spot than the designer drug labs, Det. Sgt. Noakes said. While marijuana grows use excessive amounts of electricity, often stealing it using makeshift wiring that isn't hard to spot, ecstasy labs run on much less power and have fewer easily identifiable signs. Also unlike marijuana, there are no bright lights and hydroponics equipment. Large scale operations can be run in a small area such as a garage using simple chemical lab equipment. The chemicals used to make various forms of the drug are easy to come by and ecstasy manufacturers will often pull vehicles full of the chemicals and lab equipment into the garage before they unload, making their movement into a neighbourhood difficult to spot, Det. Sgt. Noakes said. It's also quite a bit harder to clean up after officers locate the labs, she said. While a marijuana grow house can often be emptied by officers in a few hours, Det. Sgt. Noakes said the care used in clearing the possibly combustible and certainly dangerous chemicals from the Manhattan Drive lab this week took three days. Most of the signs residents can use to decide if there may be an ecstasy lab in their neighbourhood are the same as marijuana grow homes, she said. "You don't know the neighbours. They rarely put garbage out. Newspapers are piling up at the front door," Det. Sgt. Noakes said. "The people in there making or growing the drugs treat it like a flop house. So those signs are the same." A Statistics Canada survey on drug use among Canadians released this week showed 199,000 or 0.8 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 admitted to using ecstasy in 2003 and 732,000 or 2.9 per cent admitted having used it in their lifetime. Researchers don't know whether use is increasing because the previous study on drug use in 1994 didn't include ecstasy. However, the latest survey grouped ecstasy in with four other hard drugs including cocaine or crack, LSD, speed, and heroin, and showed use of the group of drugs is going up. In fact, 2.4 per cent of people aged 15 or older reported using at least one of the harder drugs in the past year, up from 1.6 per cent in 1994. With the popularity of the drug continuing to rise among local youth and the anonymity and size of suburbia increasing, Det. Noakes said local ecstasy production shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. "As far as I'm concerned, the two this week are two too many," she said. "But there will be more."