DEA Congressional Testimony
October 10, 2002

Statement of
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security

Executive Summary

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), commonly referred to as ecstasy, and the predatory drugs GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate),GBL (gamma butyrolactone), and 1,4-BD (1,4-butanediol) pose an enormous threat to America's teens and young adults. These drugs, formerly distributed almost exclusively at "Raves", can now be found in America's high schools, colleges, and many other social setting. Scientific studies have shown that use of these drugs cause significant health hazards, including long term neurological damage and addiction. Numerous instances of sexual assaults, overdoses and deaths are attributed to the use of ecstasy and predatory drugs.

To address this threat, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has initiated numerous enforcement successes and generated various innovative demand reduction programs including:

  • Targeting and dismantling major international ecstasy and predatory drug organizations, curbing the shipment of these drugs into the United States
  • Continuing to collect, analyze, and distribute vital intelligence information concerning the ecstasy and predatory drug trade to state, local, and international law enforcement entities
  • Developing a national ecstasy and predatory drug awareness campaign
  • Working in conjunction with associated local, state, federal, and community groups, DEA advances education and prevention strategies of ecstasy and predatory drugs

Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Scott, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, it is a pleasure for me to appear before this Subcommittee for the first time as the head of the DEA regarding the effects that ecstasy and predatory drugs have on our country. As always, I would like to personally express my gratitude to the Subcommittee for your unwavering support for the men and women of the DEA.

The Threat
Ecstasy

Ecstasy is the one of the most significant emerging drug threats facing America's youth today. Its popularity, along with emergency room visits associated with its use, has skyrocketed in recent years. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that nationwide hospital emergency room mentions for ecstasy rose sharply from 637 in 1997 to 5,542 in 2001.

Ecstasy users experience both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects which last several hours. Abusing ecstasy can produce a number of adverse effects including severe dehydration, exhaustion, nausea, hallucinations, increase in body temperature, tremors, heart attack and ultimately death. Ecstasy may also create after-effects, such as anxiety and depression. Ecstasy related deaths have been recorded with users' core body temperatures reaching 107 to 109 degrees.

Visibly less dramatic, but of equal concern, is the potential long-term harm the drug may cause to the brain. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center revealed that habitual ecstasy abusers suffer long-term neurological damage. The study indicates that recreational ecstasy 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 a second study just published in the Journal of Science and conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, primates were injected with two or three doses of ecstasy over a few hours. The study discovered evidence that severe brain damage occurs to the nerve cells, which produce the neurotransmitter dopamine in the area of the brain controlling movement. The study concluded that neurological damage could stay hidden for years and increase the risk of Parkinson's disease and associated movement-related disorders.

In addition, numerous major scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals have shown significant impairments in memory and learning in individuals who have ingested ecstasy. The fact that all of these drugs are clandestinely produced in unsanitary laboratories results in uncontrolled purity, an immense threat to public health and safety. Those most at risk are our kids. In 2001, 77 percent of the 5,542 Ecstasy emergency room mentions were attributed to patients age 25 and under.

The Predatory Drugs
GHB/GBL/1,4-BD

In a recent DEA drug-facilitated sexual assault training conference, Gail Abarbanel, founder and director of the nationally recognized Rape Treatment Center, estimated that 15%-20% of all rapes were facilitated with drugs, which is why GHB and other such drugs are referred to as predatory drugs. Consider the following:

Of Every 100 Rapes in the US:

  • 32 are reported to the police
  • 16 result in an arrest
  • 13 defendants will face prosecution
  • 7 will be convicted
  • 5 will go to prison
  • Bottom Line: Only 1 out of every 20 rapists will go to jail. Predatory drugs, which can incapacitate victims and impair memory make the successful prosecution of sexual predators that much more difficult.

Illicit GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), a Schedule I central nervous system depressant, was banned by the FDA for sale as a dietary supplement in 1990. GHB generates feelings of euphoria and intoxication. It is often used with ecstasy and other drugs and mixed, sometimes without the victim knowing, in carbonated, alcoholic, or health food drinks. GHB is popular among adolescents and young adults. At lower doses, GHB causes drowsiness, nausea, and visual disturbances. At higher dosages, unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, coma and death can occur.

In 1994, there were 56 emergency room admissions nationwide related to GHB. In 2000, there were almost 5,000 GHB emergency room admissions.

The Marketing Schemes

So why have ecstasy and predatory drugs become so popular among America's kids and young adults? In part, it may be the youthful impulse to experiment. But this vulnerability is preyed upon by marketing-savvy promoters and drug distributors. Raves, which appeared in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s, acted as a gateway for the introduction of ecstasy and predatory drugs to America's youth. Raves are organized, promoted, and financed by local and national enterprises that advertise through word of mouth, fliers, posters, telephone, radio, and the Internet. Many raves are advertised as "drug and alcohol-free" to give partygoers and parents a false sense of security. While many of these parties may be alcohol-free, the open distribution of ecstasy, predatory drugs and other club drugs is commonplace at many of these venues.

Promoters reach kids using there own language and their own medium, the Internet for example. Colorful and creative web-sites are setup to advertise raves as well as drugs. How can you spot a web-site or advertisement promoting ecstasy? It is not hard, if you know what you are looking for: the letter E (for ecstasy), talk of "rolling" (or getting high on ecstasy) and other references are used to promote the drug. The dealers are equally creative with how they package the drug itself. Colorful die stamps and tablets with designer labels and colors are utilized. In addition, enhancement products including fluorescent light sticks, lollipops, pacifiers, menthol nasal inhalers, surgical masks, Vicks Vapor Rub and various other items increase the stimulation of the drug's effects. None of these things are, or should be, illegal. Only the selling of this illicit drug is illegal. But parents should be aware of some of the signs of potential drug use.

One alarming fact about ecstasy and predatory drugs is the increased popularity among high school and college students. These are not simply "club" drugs. There are clear indicators that these drugs are used, not just at nightclubs and raves, but have spread to other social settings and are widely available on the streets. Recent findings from SAMHSA's 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse are not encouraging. In 2001, 8.1 million Americans aged 12 and older had used ecstasy, up from 6.5 million in 2000.

The Source

So, how are these drugs getting into the country? After all, ecstasy is not generally made in America. Ecstasy is synthetically manufactured in clandestine laboratories predominately in the Netherlands and Belgium, which produce the vast majority of the ecstasy consumed worldwide. A typical clandestine laboratory is capable of producing 20 - 30 kilograms of ecstasy per day, with one kilogram of ecstasy producing approximately 7,000 tablets. Dutch Police reported the seizure of one laboratory capable of producing approximately 100 kilograms of ecstasy per day.

Think about these numbers and the enormous profit margins they represent. Although estimates vary, the cost of producing one ecstasy tablet is between $.50 - $1.00. The wholesale price for ecstasy tablets ranges from $1.00-$2.00, contingent on the volume purchased. Once the ecstasy reaches the United States, a domestic cell distributor will charge from $6 to $12 per tablet. The ecstasy retailer, in turn, will distribute the ecstasy for $20 to $30 per tablet. At $20 per tablet, one kilogram of ecstasy would generate $140,000. At $30 per tablet-$210,000.

The transportation and distribution of ecstasy trafficked in the United States are controlled 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 persons and 10 kilograms of ecstasy in specially designed luggage. In addition to the use of couriers, these organizations commonly exploit commercial mail services to arrange delivery of their merchandise.

Although Israeli and Russian ecstasy trafficking organizations dominate the ecstasy market in the United States, other drug trafficking organizations based in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Asia, and Mexico have entered the ecstasy trade. Dominican and/or Colombian nationals smuggling cocaine to Europe have exchanged their cocaine for ecstasy pills, a significant quantity of which will be destined for U.S. cities. Indonesia authorities recently seized a large-scale ecstasy laboratory in Jakarta, which resulted in the seizure of over 300 pounds of ecstasy. As ecstasy proves more profitable and as law enforcement pressures force the traffickers to re-group, the U.S. ecstasy trade will become increasingly diverse.

The Solution

The threat presented by ecstasy and predatory drugs is clear. Therefore, so is the need for action. To this end, DEA has established a pro-active, balanced strategy that combines enforcement efforts with educational and demand reduction tactics. First, let's look at the enforcement side:

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 ecstasy, predatory drugs and club drugs. This specialized unit also coordinates investigations concerning the use of controlled substances in the facilitation of sexual assault.

DEA offices report a significant escalation in ecstasy seizures worldwide. In 2001, the DEA seized approximately 9.5 million dosage units of ecstasy in the United States, compared to 661,702 dosage units in 1997. The number of DEA cases has also increased substantially, with ecstasy arrests increasing from 443 in 1999 to 1,792 in 2001.

Domestic Operations

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

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. In September of this year, arrests were initiated regarding targets of the investigation. The indictment sought forfeiture action against 7 million dollars in assets, including two nightclubs and three residences in the Houston area.

Just last month, Operation Webslinger, a two-year investigation, targeting the illegal internet trafficking of predatory drugs such as GHB and its analogues, GBL and 1,4 BD, was concluded. This unprecedented operation, involving several federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, marked the most significant national operation targeting organizations and individuals using the Internet to peddle their drugs. What was particularly disturbing was that many of these individuals were people who hold positions of trust in our society--such as an emergency room physician, a former high school teacher and a former police officer.

The conclusion of this operation resulted in enforcement operations in over 100 cities, the arrest of 136 individuals, the seizure of approximately 3,600 gallons of predatory drugs (GBL / 1,4-BD), which equates to 25, 000,000 dosage units, over $1 million in assets, as well as 44 weapons.

Last week, a two-year multi-agency investigation was culminated in the criminal indictment of 10 individuals charged with participating in a conspiracy to import and distribute ketamine. The lead defendant of the investigation, Jorge Chevreuil Bravo, was also charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE).

Details of this investigation indicated that members of the Bravo organization solicited orders of ketamine and other pharmaceuticals from United States customers and distributors through an Internet website. The website provided contact numbers for Bravo and other distributors of Ttokyo products in Mexico, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. Ttokyo brand ketamine produced in Mexico was being smuggled into the United States and provided to distributors in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.

As a result of this investigation, DEA seized approximately 70,000 vials of ketamine and $500,000.00. Nine defendants were arrested. Mexican law enforcement authorities seized approximately 400 kilograms of ketamine.

International Operations

Mr. Chairman, a great deal of ecstasy coming to the United States is produced in the Netherlands, so earlier this year, I traveled there to see firsthand what we, working with our international colleagues, can do to stop this threat. During a meeting with Dutch police officials, 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 ecstasy and synthetic drug organizations. An evaluation of the SDU was completed last year and due to the need, the SDU was expanded and five teams, comprised of 15-25 Dutch police, were added. These teams have been assigned to different areas of responsibility 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 ecstasy destined for the U.S. In February 2002, Dutch authorities, while executing a search warrant in Ankeveen, the Netherlands, seized approximately 350 kilograms of ecstasy powder, a tableting machine and 80 different die-cast stamps. Intelligence information indicated this ecstasy 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 ecstasy tablets, also destined for the U.S.

Last month, DEA met with European law enforcement agencies in Berlin, Germany, to coordinate worldwide investigative activity related to the international trafficking of ecstasy. 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 from other offices to the Netherlands to better confront the ecstasy threat.

Our domestic efforts are paying off in the international arena as well. Besides the domestic cases I outlined earlier, just this summer, two large-scale ecstasy traffickers, Meir Ben David and Josef Levi, were extradited from Israel, as a result of being charged in Miami for conspiracy to import and possession with intent to distribute ecstasy. This marked the first extradition of any Israeli citizen to the United States for a drug crime.

The Ecstasy and Predatory Drug Awareness Campaign

Despite these encouraging enforcement successes, DEA recognizes that enforcement alone is not enough to stop this new threat. We also must raise awareness and educate the public about the dangers of ecstasy and predatory drugs. That's why DEA is developing a national awareness campaign. The focus of the campaign is three fold:

1) Educate kids, parents, health and law enforcement communities
2) Demonstrate DEA's broad based commitment to fighting the impact these drugs have on our society by building coalitions nationwide to fight this threat in our communities and reduce demand for the drug
3) Fulfill the Attorney General's responsibilities as defined in the 2002 Annual Report Regarding Date-Rape Drugs; National Awareness Campaign

One example of DEA's commitment toward a national campaign can be found in our recent partnership with the National Foundation of Women Legislators (NFWL). DEA has joined with NFWL in a common cause: educating the American public about the dangers of ecstasy and predatory drugs. 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."

The Training Venues

Finally, another important aspect of DEA's efforts to combat ecstasy and predatory drugs is to train other organizations to join the fight. In fact, DEA has been out front on this effort for a few years now. In the summer of 2000, the agency hosted the first-ever 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.

And earlier this year, DEA held its first-ever training class on drug-facilitated sexual assault. DEA also has 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.

Conclusion

Ecstasy, predatory drug and club drug trafficking and abuse will continue to be a priority for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Through the development of our national ecstasy and predatory drug campaign, DEA will work with educators, prevention specialists, and community action groups to raise awareness and educate America's youth about the dangers of ecstasy and predatory drugs. At the same time, our agents, in conjunction with our Dangerous Drugs Unit, will continue to target and dismantle the criminal organizations that produce, transport and distribute these drugs. As with DEA's overall strategy in fighting drug abuse, crime and addiction, we will continue to focus on a balanced approach that combines prevention, education, enforcement and treatment. And we will continue to depend upon individuals like you, respected members of Congress, to join with us and attack this threat from all angles.

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

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