DEA Congressional Testimony
December 4, 2001


Statement of
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
December 4, 2001

Executive Summary

photo of Administrator Hutchinson
"There are no harmless
club drugs."
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator

 

Ecstasy

 

photo - teenager dancing at a rave
Teenager dancing at an
Ecstasy all-night “Rave”
party. The pacifier is used
to prevent teeth clentching,
an involutary side effect of
MDMA abuse.

 

photo - 'Ice' methamphetamine
"Ice" Methamphetamine

 

photo - LSD blotter paper
LSD blotter paper

 

photo - Rohypnol tablets
Rohypnol

 

photo - GHB
GHB

 

photo - Ketamine vial
Ketamine

 

photo - Ecstasy tablets
Ecstasy tablets are
imprinted with various
logos to inspire brand
loyalty among abusers.

 

photo - Ecstasy tablets with different logos

 

The CASA National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse is an annual survey conducted by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The February 2001 survey revealed the following:
  • For the 6th consecutive year, drugs are the most important problem teens say they face.

  • The percentage of teens who said they expected to never try an illegal drug in the future dropped significantly from 60 percent in 1999 to only 51 percent in 2000.

  • 28 percent of teenagers know a friend or classmate who has used MDMA (Ecstasy). 10 percent had attended a rave. MDMA was available at 70 percent of raves.

 

photo - Ecstasy tablets with DEA logo
Ecstasy tablets with
"DEA" logo.

 

RAVE Clubs

The 1990s saw the emergence of high-energy, all-night dance clubs known as “rave clubs” that feature hard pounding techno-music and flashing laser lights. They are found in most metropolitan areas throughout the country and can be either permanent dance clubs or temporarily set up in abandoned warehouses, empty buildings, or open fields. Rave clubs are promoted through flyers and advertisements distributed at rave clubs, in record shops, clothing stores, college campuses, and over the Internet.

 

Typical Rave Posters

rave poster

rave poster

rave poster

 

Rave Accessories

Rave club owners and promoters provide bottled water and sports drinks to manage hyperthermia and dehydration; pacifiers to prevent involuntary teeth clenching; and menthol nasal inhalers, surgical masks, chemical lights, and neon glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets to enhance the effects of MDMA.

 

photo - marijuana
As the guidelines were
previously configured, one
gram of MDMA was equal to
only 35 grams of marijuana.

 

photo - ecstasy tablets in a variety of colors

Ecstasy tablets are sold in
a variety of colors.

photo - ecstasy tablets in a variety of colors

 

photo - molecular structure of ecstasy
Molecular structure of Ecstasy.

 

photo - U.S. congress
U.S. Congress

Typically distributed at seemingly innocuous alcohol-free “rave” parties, deceptively dangerous club drugs continue to pose a threat to America’s youth. DEA investigations indicate that club drugs are blatantly distributed at raves, often with the knowledge of rave promoters, whose huge profits blind them to the tragic consequences of club drug abuse.

Rave clubs have become increasingly popular entertainment venues for children and young adults over the past several years. The rave is an all night dance party that is driven by synthesized “techno” music played at a loud volume and frenetic beat. A synchronized laser light and video show usually accompanies the music. Raves are typically held in warehouses, clubs, fields or any other location that can accommodate a relatively large number of participants. MDMA (Ecstasy) has become the most popular club drug used at raves due to the central nervous system stimulation and mild hallucinatory effects that occur following ingestion of the drug. The pharmacological effects of MDMA provide the “raver” with enhanced sensory perception and energy to dance throughout the rave. Other drugs used at raves include Ketamine, GHB, GBL, LSD and marijuana. There have been numerous instances of overdoses and deaths of rave participants attributed to the use of MDMA and other club drugs.

To address the club drug threat at rave venues, DEA will continue to focus on the distribution of club drugs at all levels of the distribution chain. DEA will concentrate on major distributors of club drugs and support state and local action through information and intelligence sharing.

DEA has increased manpower resources considerably to combat MDMA and other club drugs. For example, in Fiscal Year 1999 DEA Special Agents devoted approximately 67,412 work hours to MDMA investigations. In Fiscal Year 2001 DEA Special Agents more than tripled their commitment to these cases, logging in over 250,000 hours to work these same investigations. As these raves continue to endanger the well-being of participants, the DEA will continue to work with our state, local, and foreign counterparts to develop new and innovative strategies against unscrupulous rave promoters.

Chairman Biden, Co-Chairman Grassley, distinguished members of the Caucus:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today for the purpose of discussing our efforts in combating the unscrupulous promoters who choose to turn a blind eye on the distribution of dangerous club drugs at rave events. I would first like to preface my remarks by thanking the Caucus for its unwavering support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement.

Background

“Club Drugs” is a general term for a number of illicit drugs, primarily synthetic, that are most commonly encountered at nightclubs and “raves.” In addition to MDMA (Ecstasy), examples of club drugs include:

  • Methamphetamine - a central nervous system stimulant.

  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) - a hallucinogenic substance which has re-emerged from its height of popularity in the 1960’s to subliminal levels in the 1980’s. Users may experience an array of visual hallucinations, synesthesia, delusions, and/or paranoia.

  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, Roofies) - a hypnotic, much like valium, which induces a rapid degree of relaxation, an inability to process events into memory, and sets the occasion for possible sexual assaults.

  • Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB) - a Schedule I depressant that produces effects similar to barbiturates including euphoria, respiratory depression, coma, and death.

  • Ketamine (Special K) - produces PCP-like effects, which include mild intoxication, hallucinations, delirium, catatonia, and amnesia. The drug is used to induce a “near death experience” which is sought after by its users.

There have been over 16 major scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals which have shown significant impairments in memory and learning in individuals who have ingested MDMA. There appears to be a strong correlation between the degree of memory and learning deficits and the loss of serotonin functioning in these young adults. All data thus far also point to the fact that these deficits will most likely be permanent. MDMA is much like LSD in that society once believed it was harmless and not addictive, but there is growing evidence of an MDMA dependence syndrome and longterm brain damage which is now helping to disprove this belief.

Ecstasy, the most widely abused club drug, is a Schedule I drug otherwise known as MDMA (3, 4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). The drug is synthetically manufactured in clandestine laboratories and produces both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects in its users. Accounts from MDMA users describe the drug as intensifying their senses, particularly the external sense of touch and an inward feeling of “closeness” or “empathy.” They will often play with fluorescent light sticks, which they will wave rapidly in front of their eyes to increase visual stimulation. Or they will use over-the-counter products, such as Vicks Vapor Rub, to enhance the drug’s effects. The state of being high on MDMA is referred to as “rolling.” Individuals usually experiment by taking three or more tablets at once, which they call “stacking,” or by consuming a series of pills over a short period of time, which they call “piggy-backing.” When users want to come down from the Ecstasy high, they will often resort to using other drugs, such as GHB, LSD, marijuana, nitrous oxide, and ketamine. It has been clearly demonstrated that the consumption of a single 100 mg tablet initiates brain cell death. Combined with the knowledge that all of these drugs are clandestinely produced in unsanitary laboratories which result in uncontrolled purity, the threat to public health and safety is immense.

Abusing MDMA can produce a number of adverse effects such as: severe dehydration, exhaustion, nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increases in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. MDMA may also create after-effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Overdosing on MDMA can cause high blood pressure, faintness, and panic attacks; in more severe cases, it can lead to loss of consciousness, seizures, or an extreme rise in body temperature to 105-106 degrees Fahrenheit. Fatalities can occur from heart failure or extreme heat stroke.

chart - MDMA-related Emergency Department EpisodesEstimates from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) show that hospital emergency department mentions for MDMA quadrupled over a three-year time span, from 1,143 in 1998 to 2,850 in 1999 to 4,511 in 2000. MDMA seizures and arrests experienced a correspondingly dramatic rise. The number of confiscated tablets submitted to DEA laboratories pursuant to DEA cases rose from 1,054,973 in 1999 to 3,045,041 in 2000 to 3,113,802 in 2001, while DEA arrests for MDMA violations increased from 681 in 1999 to 1,456 in 2000, and 1,610 in 2001. Similarly, the number of DEA initiated cases against MDMA violators increased from 278 in 1999 to 670 in 2000 to 838 in 2001.

In 1998 a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that habitual MDMA abusers suffer long-term neurological damage. While a number of major neurotransmitter systems are adversely affected by MDMA, the most pronounced damage to the user of MDMA seems to involve the serotonin systems in the brain. This is an important biochemical involved in critical functions like learning, sleep, and the integration of emotions. The study indicates that recreational MDMA users may be in danger of developing permanent brain damage that might manifest itself in the form of depression, anxiety, memory loss, or neuro-psychiatric disorders.

The Role of “Raves” in Club Drug Abuse

Club drugs have become an integral part of the rave scene. Raves gained popularity in Europe in the 1980s and appeared in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Raves are all night dance parties driven by synthesized “techno”, “industrial” or other forms of pulsating music. The music is usually accompanied by psychedelic lights, videos, smoke, fog, and simulated pyrotechnic displays. Named “Drug Taking Festivals” by police, raves are typically held in warehouses, clubs, fields, or any other location that can accommodate a large number of people. The open distribution of MDMA and other club drugs has become commonplace at many of these venues.

Raves are organized, promoted, and financed by local and national enterprises that advertise through word of mouth, fliers, posters, telephone, radio, and the Internet. They may employ bands, disc jockeys, or both. In fact, many raves are advertised as alcohol-free” in order to give partygoers and parents a false sense of security. Typically, ravers are between 12 and 25 years old. They tend to come from middle to upper-middle class economic backgrounds and from a wide variety of ethnic and national identities. A typical rave club might consist of a large dance area with no air conditioning, a separate ”cool down room”, and a VIP room. The high temperature environment of the dance floor serves to optimize the sale of water, which is marketed by party promoters, sometimes at exorbitant prices. Raves are often scheduled at unusual hours (e.g., 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.) to avoid local curfew restrictions. In addition, “After Hours” clubs have opened to extend the rave experience. These clubs advertise alcohol-free parties and often remain open until noon.

Paraphernalia used at rave parties include menthol nasal inhalers, Vicks Vapor Rub, eye drops, surgical masks, and glow sticks; as well as expensively priced water, juice, sports drinks, and soft drinks to manage excessive body heat and dehydration. Skittles, M&Ms, and other candy containers in which Ecstasy can be hidden frequently accompany these items. Ecstasy users suck on lollipops and pacifiers to prevent involuntary teeth clenching and may even have drug testing kits to test the purity of the drug.

GHB and Ketamine are other club drugs commonly sold at raves. GHB is a Schedule I depressant that gives the user a sense of euphoria and intoxication. To date, there have been approximately 72 deaths associated with GHB. Ketamine, another popular drug in the rave scene is a Schedule III controlled substance approved for both veterinarian and human use. Veterinarians primarily use Ketamine as an anesthetic; it causes intoxication and memory loss. GHB and Ketamine are also known as “date rape drugs” because users are unable to recall what occurred while they were under the drugs’ influence.

Club drugs have become such a fundamental part of the rave scene that there no longer appears to be an attempt to conceal their use. Traditional and non-traditional sources continue to report the flagrant and open use of drugs at these parties. Intelligence indicates that it has also become commonplace for security personnel to ignore drug use and sales on the premises. There have been many instances of overdoses and deaths of rave participants attributed to the use of MDMA and other substances at these venues. All of these factors, and the fact that many teens do not perceive these drugs as harmful or dangerous, make the rave experience a truly threatening development.

DEA Investigative Initiatives against Rave Promoters

MDMA (Ecstasy) Seizures in the United States, in millions: 1998-0.8, 1999-3.5, 2000-9.3DEA has completed a number of significant investigations that have targeted unscrupulous rave promoters and limited the effectiveness of rave parties as a venue for distributing club drugs. These successful cases could not have been brought to fruition without a consistent line of open communication between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

The State Palace Theater Investigation, conducted by the DEA New Orleans Division in conjunction with the New Orleans Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans, serves as an excellent model of law enforcement’s resourcefulness in addressing the threat of club drugs. In this case, investigators applied 21 U.S.C. 856, the “Crack House Statute,” for the purpose of securing federal search warrants in order to investigate club drug sales at rave parties. The statute makes it unlawful to “manage or control any building, room, or enclosure…and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, or make available for use…for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”

During the course of this investigation, DEA agents learned that over the past two years 400 to 500 teenagers and young adults had been treated at local emergency rooms for overdose-related illnesses following their participation in rave events hosted by the State Palace Theater in New Orleans, Louisiana. On July 30, 2000 the New Orleans Field Division conducted their eighth and final undercover operation at the State Palace Theater. As in other operations, undercover agents made numerous purchases of controlled substances and filmed the distribution and use of numerous drugs.

On August 26, 2000 DEA agents, in conjunction with the New Orleans Police Department, executed federal search warrants at the State Palace Theater rave venue and an affiliated corporate office, Rene Brunet, Inc. On June 13, 2001 the corporation operating the State Palace Theater entered a plea of guilty to an information charging violation of 21 U.S.C. 856. On June 13, 2001 a $100,000 fine was levied against this corporation.

Operation Bad Vibe, which was initiated by the DEA Little Rock Resident Office in 1999, targeted Cybertribe, a rave party promotion group responsible for distributing thousands of MDMA pills and other drugs in Arkansas. The organization was linked to traffickers in Tennessee and Florida. Enforcement activities conducted at Cybertribe raves resulted in over 50 arrests and the seizure of MDMA, Ketamine, and other club drugs. At the last rave party, a 17 year-old Hot Springs, AR resident died, and was found to have MDMA and Ketamine in his system. As a result of this investigation, Cybertribe—the largest rave party promotion group in the area—has been dismantled, with company executives pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute MDMA.

We are hopeful that more investigations like the State Palace Theater investigation and Operation Bad Vibe will deter irresponsible rave promoters and have an impact on mitigating the dangerous distribution of drugs at rave events.

Use of Local Health Codes and Nuisance Abatement Ordinances

Law enforcement authorities in other parts of the country have implemented equally resourceful strategies to address the use of club drugs at rave venues. After the detection of rave promotion fliers in Florence County, South Carolina, DEA and the Florence County Sheriff’s Office were able to obtain a court order against the rave promoters on the basis of health code violations. The lack of sufficient water supplies and inadequate toilet facilities at the designated rave location were cited. The promoters advertised another rave in Horey County, South Carolina, and were again deterred. Although these efforts were successful for South Carolina, they resulted in the displacement of the rave promoters across state lines to North Carolina. Efforts are now underway in North Carolina to further deter rave sponsors from holding parties in these communities.

Between April 2000 and January 2001 the DEA Hartford, Connecticut Resident Office and Hartford Police Department conducted an intensive investigation of drug trafficking at local rave clubs, and made several undercover purchases of MDMA. During the course of this investigation, a rave venue known as the SYSTEM nightclub was the site of a drug overdose and several late night calls for emergency medical assistance. On January 18, 2001 the DEA Hartford Resident Office and Hartford Police Department executed several arrest warrants and a court order to close the SYSTEM, as well as the VELVET and VIBES nightclubs. These nightclubs were closed using the State of Connecticut Nuisance Abatement Statutes as part of an innovative strategy to combine civil remedies with traditional policing and criminal prosecution to address the chronic problems eroding the quality of life in communities throughout Connecticut.

Recent Penalty Enhancements

photo - MDMA tablets with different logosThe Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-310), enacted by Congress last year, directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to provide for increased penalties for the manufacture, importation, exportation, and trafficking of MDMA. The federal drug sentencing guidelines set forth quantity-driven base sentences for some of the less frequently encountered drugs, including MDMA, through conversion factors, expressed as “equivalencies” to marijuana. As the guidelines were previously configured, one gram of MDMA was equal to only 35 grams of marijuana. Consequently, a first-time offender arrested with 10 kilograms of MDMA potentially faced only 5-6 years incarceration—far short of the 20-25 years exposure faced by a methamphetamine trafficker arrested with a similar amount of drugs.

Effective on May 1, 2001, emergency amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines raised the marijuana equivalency of MDMA from 35 grams to 500 grams of marijuana. As a result of this penalty enhancement, a violator trafficking 200 grams of MDMA – approximately 800 tablets, assuming a weight of 250 milligrams each – will now be exposed to a five-year sentence. These emergency amendments were retained and became permanent on November 1, 2001. This improvement will arm federal drug law enforcement with a valuable tool against MDMA traffickers. It will increase the likelihood of federal prosecution, allow more appropriate terms of imprisonment for mid and high level dealers, and provide more effective leverage in turning low level distributors to assist in apprehending and prosecuting top level violators from MDMA trafficking organizations.

Another federal sentencing guideline change, effective November 1 of this year, removed the upper limit or “cap” on GHB sentences. While this enhancement was intended to aid law enforcement, the quantities needed to trigger applicable guidelines sentences are still higher than we deem appropriate. Currently, approximately 13 gallons of GHB is required to satisfy the Level 26 requirement. Consequently, rave dealers and other traffickers can distribute relatively large doses of the dangerous drug with relative impunity. Since 1992, there have been over 11,000 DAWN emergency department mentions and an indeterminable number of rapes and sexual assaults attributed to the use of this drug.

Mandated Training and Reporting Requirements for Club Drugs

The Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prevention Drug Act of 1999 (Public Law l06-172) contains a statutory obligation requiring that the Attorney General, in consultation with DEA and the FBI:

  • Develop model protocols for the collection of samples and victim statements related to possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act or other laws involving the abuse of GHB, other controlled substances, or so-called “designer drugs” that result in rape, other crimes of violence, or other crimes;

  • Develop model training materials for law enforcement personnel involved in such investigations; and

  • Make protocols and training materials available to personnel responsible for such investigations.

clipart computerClick here for publications and additional resources related to club drugs:

www.ncjrs.org/club_drugs/publications.html

In addition, this statute mandated that the Attorney General establish within the Operations Division of DEA a special unit to assess the abuse of and trafficking in GHB, Flunitrazepam, Ketamine, and other designer or club drugs whose use has been associated with sexual assault. In response to this mandate, DEA Headquarters has established a special Dangerous Drugs Unit. This special unit queries domestic DEA field offices to obtain information on the use of these drugs in sexual assaults, and assists in coordinating investigations of criminal organizations trafficking in club drugs.

The DEA’s Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section of the Office of Diversion Control continuously reviews scientific and medical literature on the nature of the threat to human health and welfare posed by these club drugs. These data, in conjunction with intelligence information collected by the Dangerous Drugs Unit are used for the purpose of establishing future training for DEA and other federal, state, and local personnel charged with investigating drug facilitated sexual assaults. In addition, the Department of Justice has developed and posted on the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) intranet forensic training material to enhance the collection and testing of evidence for these cases. This material is accessible to thousands of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.

photo collage - images from the rave sceneDEA’s Community Initiatives

To focus national attention on the MDMA threat, DEA hosted the International Conference on Ecstasy and Club Drugs in partnership with approximately 300 officials from domestic and foreign law enforcement, judicial, chemical, prevention and treatment communities. The conference was held from July 31, 2000 to August 2, 2000 at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. During the conference, a working group developed several demand reduction objectives which have been institutionalized by DEA. These objectives include:

  • Providing accurate, complete, and current information on the scientific findings and medical effects of club drugs on the human body;

  • Working with local, state, and other federal agencies and nonprofit organizations in an effort to advance drug education and prevention;

  • Enhancing parental knowledge of raves and club drugs and engage their active participation in education and prevention of drug abuse;

  • Educating high school and college students on the realities of raves and the effects of club drugs on the human body.

In an effort to reach out to the highly vulnerable population of high school and younger students, schools must use peer-to-peer education strategies to make teens aware of the dangers of club drugs. Additional solutions include the use of demand reduction programs to create alternative social activities, and enlist the help of the entertainment industry to facilitate drug education agendas.

DEA’s Regional Club Drug Conference

As a follow-up to last year’s conference, DEA is in the process of implementing a series of Regional Club Drug Conferences that will serve to spread DEA’s demand reduction message to a variety of selected communities. In May 2001 a regional conference was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. DEA hosted the conference in partnership with the New Jersey Prevention Network and the New Jersey State Police as a way to develop effective enforcement and prevention strategies by bringing together federal, state, and local experts already familiar with the club drug issue. Regional conferences were also held in Chicago, Illinois in August 2001 and San Diego, California in September 2001.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that DEA will continue to work to dismantle club drug trafficking organizations, while holding accountable those rave promoters who reap huge profits while deliberately remaining ignorant of the blatant club drug distribution and tragic events occurring at these rave venues. At the same time, we will continue to work hard through our demand reduction programs and club drug conferences to educate the youth of America on the dangers of club drugs.

I thank you for providing me the opportunity to address the Committee, and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important i

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