Drug Report: MDMA, Ecstasy Still A Teen Choice; ER Visits Up 75%

Originally appearing at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/220267.php. Teens like to party, and the popular use of an MDMA hybrid, commonly known as ecstasy, is on the rise in teens and young adults again according to a new Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) study release released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). As a direct result, visit to emergency rooms has increased from 10,222 in 2004 to 17,865 in 2008, up 74.8%. According to the study, most of these emergency room visits (69.3%) involved patients between 18 and 29; 17.9% of those seeking help in ERs were between ages 12 and 17, SAMHSA says 77.8% of the emergency department visits involving ecstasy also involved the use of at least one other substance of abuse. Among ecstasy-related emergency department visits involving people 21 and older, 39.7% of the patients had used the drug with three or more substances of abuse, most often alcohol. SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde, JD states: “The resurgence of ecstasy use is cause for alarm that demands immediate attention and action. The aggressive prevention efforts being put into place by SAMHSA will help reduce use in states and communities, resulting in less costly emergency department visits related to drug use.” Authors of the DAWN report say ecstasy is a public health concern because of its adverse health consequences, and it is also addictive. It says users of the drug need to be educated about its dangers, especially about what can happen when it’s used with other illicit substances. MDMA, colloquially known as ecstasy, is an entactogenic drug of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of drugs. MDMA can induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, and diminished anxiety. Many studies, particularly in the fields of psychology and cognitive therapy, have suggested that MDMA has therapeutic benefits and facilitates therapy sessions in certain individuals, a practice which it had formally been used for in the past. Clinical trials are now testing the therapeutic potential of MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety associated with terminal cancer. MDMA is criminalized in most countries under a United Nations (U.N.) agreement, and its possession, manufacture, or sale may result in criminal prosecution, although some limited exceptions exist for scientific and medical research. MDMA is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world and is taken in a variety of contexts far removed from its roots in psychotherapeutic settings. It is commonly associated with dance parties (or “raves”) and electronic dance music. Ecstasy can produce psychedelic and stimulant side effects, including anxiety attacks, hypertension, hyperthermia and rapid heartbeat, called tachycardia. Such adverse reactions can increase when ecstasy is used, as it often is, along with alcohol or other substances of abuse, according to researchers. DAWN researchers also detected regional differences in ecstasy use. Their report says 34% of ecstasy-related emergency department visits were made in the South, 31.4% in the West, 18.5% in the Midwest, and 16.1% in the Northeast. MDMA acts as a releasing agent of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It enters neurons via carriage by the monoamine transporters. Once inside, MDMA inhibits the vesicular monoamine transporter, which results in increased concentrations of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine into the cytoplasm, and induces their release by reversing their respective transporters through a process known as phosphorylation. On March 24, 2011, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) released a report with the latest statistics for emergency department admissions in the U.S. involving Ecstasy. It’s clear that recreational Ecstasy use has increased in recent years, but that’s not how most mainstream media have interpreted the data. Unfortunately, most media sources (such as this CBS News article) have framed it as evidence for the dangers of recreational Ecstasy use. Those journalists taking the time to actually read the report (such as the author of the Medical News Today article listed below, which also mentions MAPS’ research on the therapeutic uses of MDMA) noticed that the vast majority (nearly 80%) of emergency department admissions involving Ecstasy also involved at least one other drug, and almost 40% of those over the age of 21 reported using three or more before being admitted. Was Ecstasy the cause of the admission, or was it the other drugs? No drug, including Ecstasy or its principal component MDMA, is risk-free, but it’s important to be careful when reporting on scientific data. It is frustrating for those committed to scientific honesty when journalists report on what they’re afraid of rather than what the research actually says.