Once upon a time, in the 1990s, Ecstasy was a rave drug, surrounded by whirling glow-sticks and teenagers looking for a good time. When organizations like the Foundation for a Drug-Free World started spreading the word about Ecstasy’s hazards via public service announcements, the drug began to go “out of style.” As with most drugs, education is prevention. Today, the general population is well aware that users of Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, are at a high risk for dangerous side effects such as mental trauma, memory loss, seizure, stroke, and kidney failure. Dr. Caitlin Reed of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it simply: “There are multiple mechanisms through which Ecstasy can cause death.”
Despite these factors, Ecstasy never really disappeared. And now, its popularity is once again on the rise. As we have learned from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Ecstasy consumption in the United States has risen 37% over the past year. Rave culture is re-appearing: early this year in Los Angeles, 18 drug overdoses tied to ecstasy occurred at a rave, and this summer, 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez overdosed at another rave and died.
We’re also seeing this renewed interest in Ecstasy expressed through music. When rapper T.I. was arrested for drug possession last month, fans were surprised to learn that, in addition to marijuana, T.I. was also carrying Ecstasy. (In the words of L.A. Times writer Chris Lee, “Since when do gangsta rappers dabble in designer drugs?”) Yet T.I. is just one of many rap and hip-hop artists now using – or at least referring to using – this “designer” drug. Ecstasy has become a visible presence in the hip-hop scene, and a wide range of performers – including Eminem, Missy Elliot, Ja Rule, and Lil’ Wayne, among others – have made thinly-veiled praises of Ecstasy (“X,” “beans” or “double stacks”) in their recent music. Their song titles, such as “Pillz,” “Pill-Poppin Animal,” “X-tasy,” and “Higher Than a Kite,” are anything but subtle.
What effect does this newfound glorification of Ecstasy have on today’s teens? Between raves and rappers, where are the messages about the dangers of Ecstasy? This is a drug that had largely dropped from view a decade ago, and has recently reappeared – with numerous hip spokespeople and a wider and more receptive audience. Whereas the Ecstasy use of the 1990s centered around the rave alterna-culture, today’s hip-hop stars have become the ambassadors of mainstream cool – posing an even greater influential threat to the impressionable teens who admire their music and want to emulate their lifestyles.
We need to put Ecstasy back in the spotlight – by increasing prevention efforts, awareness and outreach. And we must view Ecstasy’s renaissance as wake-up call. When use of a particular drug appears to be declining, parents and community members are often lulled into a false sense of security. We target current substance abuse trends, while crossing off the old trend on our list of drugs to monitor. In reality, drugs like Ecstasy never leave the scene; they just go underground and then resurface. With “generation X” all grown up, it’s time to educate a new generation of young people, and an entirely different group of music fans, about the risks of Ecstasy—and all drug trends past and present.
Director, Phoenix House Academy of Austin
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