DEA Congressional Testimony
September 19, 2002

Statement of
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the
House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy,
and Human Resources

Executive Summary

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), commonly referred to as ecstasy, is a deceptively dangerous club drug that poses an immense threat to America's youth. Frequently distributed at "Rave" venues whose advertising leaflets boast of security and alcohol free environments, MDMA continues to be extremely popular among middle-class adolescents and young adults. There have been numerous instances of overdoses and deaths attributed to the use of MDMA and other club drugs.

To address the threat of MDMA, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has initiated multiple innovative programs and generated numerous enforcement successes to combat the threat posed by these trafficking organizations:

  • DEA coordinates closely with our international counter-parts to target MDMA trafficking organizations to halt the transshipment of MDMA into the United States, which prevented the distribution of millions of dosage units.
  • DEA continues to target and dismantle major domestic MDMA trafficking groups and seized 49 MDMA laboratories in the U.S. since 1999.
  • As the lead U.S. Federal drug law enforcement agency, DEA continues to collect, analyze, and distribute vital intelligence information concerning the MDMA trade to state, local, and international law enforcement entities.
  • Working in conjunction with associated local, state, federal, and community groups, DEA advances education and prevention strategies of MDMA and other club drug abuse.
Chairman Souder, Ranking Member Cummings, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Subcommittee regarding ecstasy and its effect on our country. The devastating effects of this drug on America's youth must be confronted, and the Subcommittee is to be commended for continuing to bring this most important issue to the forefront. As always, I would like to personally express my gratitude to the Subcommittee for your unwavering support for the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

MDMA Overview

MDMA, a Schedule I drug, is the most widely abused club drug in America. MDMA users experience both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects which last several hours. Accounts from 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 dance with fluorescent light sticks, use Vicks Vapor Rub and other miscellaneous items to increase stimulation and enhance the drug's effects.

Abusing MDMA can produce a number of adverse effects including severe dehydration, exhaustion, nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increase in body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping, and blurred vision. MDMA may also create after-effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Recent MDMA related deaths were associated with core body temperatures of 107 to 109 degrees.

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. 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 disorder.

In addition, there have been numerous major scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals which have shown significant impairments in memory and learning in individuals who have ingested MDMA. 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.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that nationwide hospital emergency room mentions for MDMA rose sharply from 637 in 1997 to 5,542 in 2001. Caucasian teenagers and young adults have been the primary users of MDMA, and this trend is reflected in the DAWN emergency room reporting data. In 2001, 77 percent of the 5,542 MDMA emergency room mentions were attributed to patients age 25 and under.

MDMA Traffickers: Merchants of Death

MDMA is synthetically manufactured in clandestine laboratories predominately in Western Europe in the Netherlands and Belgium, which produce the vast majority of the MDMA consumed worldwide. A typical clandestine laboratory is capable of producing 20 - 30 kilograms of MDMA per day, with one kilogram of MDMA producing approximately 7,000 tablets. Dutch Police reported the seizure of one laboratory capable of producing approximately 100 kilograms of MDMA per day.

Most often, MDMA consumed in the United States is manufactured by Dutch chemists, and transported or distributed by various factions of Israeli and Russian Organized Crime groups. These groups recruit and utilize American, Israeli and western European nationals as couriers. Couriers can smuggle 2 to 5 kilograms on their person, and 10 kilograms of MDMA in specially designed luggage. In addition to the use of couriers, these organizations commonly exploit commercial mail services to arrange delivery of their merchandise.

The drug trafficking organizations involved in MDMA distribution are brought together by the enormous profit realized in these ventures. Although estimates vary, the cost of producing one MDMA tablet is between $.50 - $1.00. The wholesale price for MDMA tablets range from $1.00-$2.00, contingent on the volume purchased. Once the MDMA reaches the United States, a domestic cell distributor will charge from $6 to $12 per tablet. The MDMA retailer, in turn, will distribute the MDMA for $20 to $30 per tablet.

MDMA traffickers utilize major airports in Europe as transshipment points for MDMA destined to the United States. Los Angeles, New York, and Miami are currently the major "gateway cities" for the influx of MDMA. These three cities reflect the greatest number of arrests and seizures of MDMA within our borders. The largest MDMA seizure in the United States occurred in Los Angeles, California, where DEA and US Customs seized over 700 pounds. Because of increased law enforcement awareness, Israeli traffickers are adjusting their routes and modes of transportation in order to circumvent detection and interdiction by law enforcement officials. These adjustments include a shift in transportation routes from these three "gateway cities" to other ports of entry in the United States.

Although Israeli and Russian MDMA trafficking organizations dominate the MDMA market in the United States, other drug trafficking organizations based in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Asia, and Mexico have entered MDMA trade. As ecstasy proves more profitable and as law enforcement pressures force the traffickers to re-group, the U.S. MDMA trade will become increasingly diverse.

Europe will most likely remain the primary source region for MDMA, at least, in the near term. Dominican and/or Colombian nationals smuggling cocaine to Europe have exchanged their cocaine for MDMA pills, a significant quantity of which will be destined for U.S. cities. However, it appears, at least for now, that MDMA production is securely entrenched in Europe.

MDMA production also appears to be gaining a foothold in Asia and Australia. Indonesia authorities recently seized a large-scale MDMA laboratory in Jakarta and over 300 pounds of MDMA. Given the ready availability of precursor chemicals in Asia, it is possible that Asian production of MDMA will increase in the future.

Raves: "Dancing in Darkness" and Related Club Drugs

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. 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. In fact, many raves are advertised as "drug and alcohol-free" in order to give partygoers and parents a false sense of security. Typically, ravers are between 12 and 25 years old, come from middle to upper-middle class economic backgrounds and from a wide variety of ethnic and national identities.

GHB/GBL

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), a central nervous system depressant, was banned by the FDA for sale as a dietary supplement in 1990. In February 2000, Congress passed the Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prohibition Act of 2000. (PL106-172). For purposes of law enforcement, as opposed to regulatory controls for FDA-approved drug products containing GHB, this legislation makes illicit GHB a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).

GHB generates feelings of euphoria and intoxication. It is often combined in a carbonated, alcohol, or health food drink, and is reportedly popular among adolescents and young adults attending raves and nightclubs. At lower doses, GHB causes drowsiness, nausea, and visual disturbances. At higher dosages, unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, and coma can occur.

GHB has been used in the commission of sexual assaults because it renders the victim incapable of resisting, and may cause memory problems that could complicate case prosecution. In 2000, DEA documented 71 GHB related deaths. GHB recipes are accessible over the Internet; the drug is simple to manufacture, and can be made in a bathtub or even a Pyrex baking dish. DEA, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, seized 17 GHB laboratories in 2000, 10 of which were located in California.

In 1994, there were 55 emergency room admissions nationwide related to GHB. In 2000, there were 4,969 GHB emergency room admissions. Since 1990, DEA has documented over 12,600 overdoses and law enforcement encounters.

GBL (gamma butyrolactone) and 1,4-BD (1,4-butanediol) analogs of GHB, are also abused at raves. GBL and 1,4-BD are chemicals used in many industrial cleaners and have also been marketed as health supplements. GBL and 1,4-BD are synthesized by the body to produce GHB. One 55-gallon drum yields 240,000 capfuls of GHB. One capful sells for $8.00, potentially yielding 1.9 million dollars per 55-gallon drum.

Ketamine

Ketamine, another popular drug in the rave scene, is a Schedule III controlled substance approved for both veterinarian and human use. Ketamine can be injected, applied to smokable material, or consumed in drinks. Veterinarians primarily use Ketamine as an anesthetic; it causes intoxication and memory loss. Ketamine is also known as a "date rape drug" because it causes temporary memory loss and leaves victims in a state of helplessness.

Legislative Mandates

In an effort to stop the eruption of club drug related sexual assaults, The Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prevention Drug Act of 2000 contained several statutory requirements for DEA regarding GHB, Ketamine, and other controlled substances. DEA established the Dangerous Drugs Unit within the Office of Domestic Operations Section at DEA Headquarters that specifically addresses the abuse and trafficking of GHB and other controlled substances. The Dangerous Drugs Unit provides management, funding, guidance, and support to domestic and foreign investigations that target organizations and individuals involved in the manufacture and distribution of club drugs and investigations concerning the use of controlled substances in the facilitation of sexual assault. This unit also provides assistance to field investigations targeting promoters of rave events that condone drug distribution and use.

In addition, DEA has formed an Evaluation Section as part of the Dangerous Drugs Unit to monitor and assess the abuse of and trafficking in GHB, Ketamine, and other designer or club drugs whose use has been associated with sexual assault. This section continuously reviews scientific and medical literature for threats to human health and welfare posed by these club drugs. Based on their findings and in an effort to protect the public, DEA published a notice of intent to place the following emerging club drugs into Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA): Benzlpiperazine (BZP), Triflourmethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP) and 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-(n)-Propylthiophenethylamine (2C-T-7/ Tripstasy). All three of these formerly legal drugs had been marketed on the Internet as legal alternatives to MDMA, and 2C-T-7 has caused several deaths in the U.S.

Domestic Enforcement Initiatives

DEA offices nationwide report a significant escalation in MDMA seizures from 1997 to 2001. In 2001, the DEA seized approximately 9.5 million dosage units of MDMA in the United States compared to 661,702 dosage units in 1997. Since 1998, the number of DEA domestic arrests for MDMA-related violations has increased every year. The number of MDMA arrests increased 24 percent from 1,538 in 2000 to 1,908 in 2001.

In August 2001, DEA culminated Operation Green Clover with 28 arrests and the seizure of 85,000 tablets of MDMA and $1.36 million in U.S. currency. Operation Green Clover called public attention to the extreme dangers of abusing club drugs due to the tragic death of sixteen-year-old Brittney Chambers, who died as a result of taking MDMA.

During that same month, DEA concluded a two year investigation that was coordinated through the Special Operations Division, Operation Rave I and II, which resulted in the arrest of 247 individuals, the seizure of 7.5 million tablets of MDMA, $2.7 million in U.S. currency and $1.9 million in other assets. This investigation was a cooperative effort with the U.S. domestic law enforcement agencies, the Israeli National Police, the German National Police and numerous European law enforcement agencies.

In October 2001, DEA successfully completed Operation Triple X, which dismantled a major methamphetamine and MDMA drug lab in Escondido, California. During the two-day enforcement operation, 20 people were arrested for their participation in the trafficking organization that was capable of producing millions of MDMA tablets.

On September 10, 2002, DEA and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office arrested three individuals from French Guyana at the Greyhound bus station subsequent to the seizure of approximately 127 pounds of MDMA, secured in suitcases.

On August 28, 2002, a federal grand jury in Houston, Texas returned two indictments charging 34 individuals and two corporations with a variety of drug and money laundering offenses. This organization was responsible for the distribution of more than one million ecstasy tablets in Houston and elsewhere. On September 17, 2002, in a multinational enforcement effort, arrests were initiated regarding targets of this investigation. Two principle targets of this investigation, Sarabjeet and Amrik Singh, were charged with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. The indictment seeks forfeiture action against 7 million dollars in assets, including two nightclubs and three residences in the Houston area.

International Enforcement Initiatives

In June 2002, I traveled to the Netherlands to meet with Dutch police officials. During this meeting, we discussed their efforts to address the synthetic drug problem in their country. Five years ago, the Dutch Police initiated the Synthetic Drug Unit (SDU) pilot project, created to target MDMA and synthetic drug organizations. An evaluation of the SDU was completed last year and due to the need, the SDU was expanded and six teams, comprised of 15-25 Dutch police, were added. These teams have been assigned to different areas of responsibilities within the Netherlands. The SDU also was allocated approximately $90 million, over five years, to fund synthetic drug enforcement, as well as to improve international cooperation.

DEA enforcement operations with host countries are substantial and have resulted in the seizure of millions of dosage units of MDMA destined for the U.S. In February 2002, Dutch authorities, while executing a search warrant in Ankeveen, Netherlands, seized approximately 350 kilograms of MDMA powder, a tableting machine and 80 different die-cast stamps. Intelligence information indicated this MDMA was intended for distribution in the U.S. In addition, over the last four-month period, DEA and the Brussels Country Office have seized approximately 4 million MDMA tablets, also destine for the U.S.

During September of 2002, DEA agents met with European law enforcement agencies in Berlin, Germany to coordinate worldwide investigative activity related to the international trafficking of MDMA. Each participating agency prepared a list of goals and targets that was used to identify members operating for the purpose of disrupting and dismantling these drug trafficking organizations. DEA has also implemented plans to reallocate resources to the Netherlands to better confront the MDMA threat.

DEA is currently conducting a joint investigation with German Customs concerning Dominican MDMA trafficking organizations, which are smuggling MDMA from the Netherlands through Germany and other European countries into the United States. To date, this investigation has resulted in the arrest of over 190 couriers in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Mexico, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States.

In July of 2002, two large scale MDMA traffickers, Meir Ben David and Josef Levi, were extradited from Israel as a result of being charged in Miami for Conspiracy to Import MDMA and Possession with Intent to Distribute MDMA. This marked the first extradition of any Israeli citizen to the United States for a drug crime.

Initiatives Against Rave Promoters

The State Palace Theater Investigation, which was 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 the resourcefulness of law enforcement in addressing the threat of club drugs.

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 attendance at rave events hosted by the State Palace Theater.

As a result of the investigation, the company, in a plea agreement, agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. Perhaps most significant is the fact that, since the completion of the operation, club drug related overdoses in New Orleans have dropped 90%, with ecstasy overdoses disappearing altogether. This statistic clearly shows a very strong correlation between rave activity and club drug overdoses resulting in emergency room visits.

Beginning in February 2001, DEA in Idaho and local law enforcement conducted a lengthy investigation concerning the sale of MDMA in the Boise, Idaho area. This investigation lead to the arrest over 23 individuals for the distribution of MDMA, Ketamine, and other club drugs. Rave promoter Jaime Collins pleaded guilty to the "crack house statute" in this investigation for a rave he sponsored during 2001. On May 17, 2002, five additional defendants were indicted in this case for various federal drug violations.

DEA's Community Outreach Initiatives

DEA began to focus national attention on the MDMA and club drugs in 2000, when the agency 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. During the conference, several demand reduction objectives were developed 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 addition, DEA recently hosted a series of Regional Club Drug Conferences in local communities 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. Similar regional conferences were also held in Chicago, Illinois, and San Diego, California.

In May of this year, DEA partnered with the National Foundation of Women Legislators (NFWL) in a common cause: educating the American public about the dangers of Club Drugs such as MDMA and GHB. Robin Read, President and CEO of the NFWL called the partnership, "one of the most innovative programs the NFWL has embarked upon in its 64 year history."

During August of 2002, DEA held it's first ever training class on drug-facilitated sexual assault, with more planned for the near future. DEA has also prepared training aides concerning drug-facilitated sexual assault for law enforcement in the field. 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.

From September 25-27, 2002, DEA's Denver Field Division will host the Rocky Mountain Club Drug Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. The goal of the conference is to bring together law enforcement personnel, prevention specialists/coalitions, and treatment professionals for a comprehensive conference focusing on club drugs. Emphasis will be placed on community collaboration, as well as issues specific to prevention, treatment, and law enforcement professionals. The conference will provide accurate, up-to-date information and encourage community-wide collaboration, to develop a community response to the serious issue of club drugs.

Conclusion

Club drug trafficking and abuse and the associated horrific effects that accompany the abuse and distribution of these drugs continue to be a priority for the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA will continue to work with legislators, educators, prevention specialists, community action groups, and law enforcement to raise awareness and educate America's youth about the dangers of club drugs and all illegal drugs. In addition, DEA will pursue domestic and international MDMA and other club trafficking organizations to protect America's borders from the horrors of these debilitating drugs.

Again, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to testify today and I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.

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