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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
Massachusetts Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001 

Other Dangerous Drugs

After heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, the most significant drug threats in Massachusetts are MDMA and diverted prescription drugs. Seizures of MDMA have risen sharply over the past year. Many distributors are finding that they can derive large profits with little risk by selling the drug to young users at colleges, nightclubs, and "raves," large dance parties characterized by loud music and psychedelic lighting. Most MDMA is manufactured in the Netherlands and Belgium. The "club drugs" GHB and GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) have risen in popularity among adolescents and young adults as well. Pharmaceutical stimulants and depressants are widely available, and hallucinogenic drugs and steroids are popular among certain user groups.


MDMA is the most abused other dangerous drug (ODD) in Massachusetts. The use of MDMA has risen sharply, particularly among adolescents and young adults and in urban areas. The drug commonly is used at raves and nightclubs, and its use is believed to be increasing in other social venues as well. Ketamine is used in combination with MDMA to enhance its hallucinogenic effects. Users may take ketamine, marijuana, GHB, or heroin to moderate the very stimulating MDMA high.39 MDMA overdoses rose in 1999, and the Massachusetts Poison Control Center reported a rise in calls related to MDMA during the period October 1998 to June 1999.

Regarding the abuse of other stimulant drugs:

  • Less than 1 percent of all treatment admissions in the first three quarters of FY1999 reported using amphetamines in the month before admission. However, the amphetamines Adderall and Ritalin figured prominently in calls to the Massachusetts Poison Control Center during the period October 1998 to June 1999. One survey found that as many as five in 40 Massachusetts students abuse Ritalin. Its use most commonly occurs in middle- and upper-class communities.
  • The Massachusetts Poison Control Center reported two calls during the period October 1998 to June 1999 related to khat, a leafy plant shipped from Africa to the United States by air. The leaves and buds of the plant are chewed for their stimulant properties.

Regarding the abuse of depressants in Massachusetts:

  • The Massachusetts Poison Control Center reported a surge of calls related to GHB and GBL during the period October 1998 to June 1999.
  • Benzodiazepines are widely abused in the state. Prescription drugs including Valium (diazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam) were mentioned in 5 percent of statewide substance abuse help-line calls in which drugs were specified between December 1998 and September 1999. Klonopin and Xanax (alprazolam) are readily available, and the use of Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) is reported in Massachusetts.
  • Opiates and opioids (synthetic drugs manufactured to resemble the natural opiates in action and effect) are also abused in the state. Percodan, Percocet, and Tylox (oxycodone) are widely available. Vicodin ES, Hycodan, and Tussionex (hydrocodone), Dilaudid (hydromorphone), Duragesic (fentanyl), MS Contin (morphine), Tylenol No. 4 (containing codeine), and methadone are available as well.
  • Barbiturates, a group of sedative/hypnotic drugs prescribed to relieve tension, are available in Massachusetts, but their use is not common. Among admissions to state-funded substance abuse treatment centers in the first three quarters of FY1999, less than 1 percent reported using barbiturates or other sedatives in the month prior to treatment.

Less than 1 percent of admissions to state-funded substance abuse treatment centers in the first three quarters of FY1999 reported using hallucinogenic drugs in the month prior to treatment. Still, hallucinogenic drugs continue to be used in certain circles. Use of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms is not uncommon among adolescents and young adults; most LSD is encountered in college areas and at rave parties. Mescaline use has been occasionally reported. DXM (dextromethorphan), the active ingredient in some cough medicines, is commonly abused by teens for its hallucinatory properties and to prolong and enhance the effects of other drugs. Ketamine often is used by Caucasian middle-class adults and by youths at clubs and rave parties. PCP (phencyclidine) abuse is not widespread in New England.

Anabolic-androgenic steroid use is insignificant in Massachusetts. Only 4.6 percent of Massachusetts high school students assessed by the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey reported ever using steroids. The patterns of use were similar in Boston, but the user percentages were even lower (2.5%). Young, heterosexual, male body-builders are reported to be the chief users.

Use of inhalants by adolescents continues, probably because they are inexpensive and readily available. Of high school students assessed by the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, 7.0 percent in Boston and 14.4 percent in the remainder of Massachusetts reported ever using inhalants, more than for any other drug surveyed except marijuana. In addition, 2.0 percent in Boston and 4.1 percent in the remainder of Massachusetts reported using inhalants during the 30 days preceding the survey.

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MDMA has emerged as a significant threat in Massachusetts, particularly in more populous areas. DEA, the Massachusetts State Police, and local police departments report an increased number of MDMA arrests and seizures throughout the state. Law enforcement authorities in all counties with more than 500,000 people, with the exception of Bristol County, reported MDMA as a problem in 1999. Conversely, authorities in counties with fewer than 500,000 people did not report MDMA as a problem with the exception of those in the "Cape and Islands" area. Federal reporting indicates MDMA use was increasing in the less populous counties in 2000.

Other Stimulants. The Boston Police Department reports little to no distribution of amphetamines, and the number of amphetamine submissions to the state's drug analysis laboratory has been negligible. However, some reports continue to suggest that amphetamines and their analogs are available in Massachusetts. Khat is available on a very limited basis in Massachusetts. Because the plant usually is shipped to the United States from Africa and because its potency declines sharply about 48 hours after harvesting, wide distribution in Massachusetts is unlikely.

Depressants are also readily available in Massachusetts. GHB, a colorless, odorless, tasteless liquid depressant, is often used by adolescents and young adults at nightclubs and rave parties. A liquid supplement called "Enliven," designed to approximate the effects of GHB and until recently sold on the Internet, reportedly is being used by some youths. GBL, an analog of and chemical precursor for GHB, is available in the state as well, and one DEA investigation discovered bulk quantities being transported in or through Massachusetts. The investigation did not determine the intended destination. Benzodiazepines, opiates, and opioids are widely diverted and sold in Massachusetts. Barbiturates are diverted and sold illegally in Massachusetts, but their use is much more limited.

Hallucinogens. From 1992 through the first half of 1999, hallucinogenic drugs accounted for less than 1 percent of the statewide drug submissions to the Massachusetts DPH's Drug Analysis Laboratory.40 Still, hallucinogens remain available and are sold to certain user groups. LSD is available in blotter form throughout New England, and wholesale quantities occasionally are reported there. Caucasian groups are the primary distributors. Wholesale quantities of diverted ketamine are transported to Massachusetts at least occasionally, and availability is quite high. Law enforcement in Lawrence reports ketamine is the second most available ODD after MDMA. Psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline are seen in limited quantities throughout New England. DXM is not a controlled substance and therefore may be purchased over the counter. PCP is available on a limited basis, including from street gangs such as the Hispanic gang Ņeta in Worcester County.

Steroids also are available in Massachusetts, but on a much more limited basis than many other ODDs and pharmaceuticals.

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Black-market prices for some ODDs are listed in Table 3.

      Table 3. Diverted Pharmaceuticals and ODD Prices, Massachusetts, 1999

Drug Amount Price Range
Dilaudid  4 mg  $40
Duragesic   gram $5
ounce  $10
Klonopin   2 mg $3-$5
Methadone  dosage unit  $10-$20
MS Contin  dosage unit  $15
dosage unit  $5-$8
Ritalin   dosage unit $4-$6
Tylenol No. 4  dosage unit  $3-$4
Valium  gram $4
Vicodin ES   dosage unit $5
Xanax  1 mg
2 mg
LSD hit
PCP dosage unit
MDMA   dosage unit $7-$15

        Source: Compiled from DEA Sources, 1999.

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Trafficking, distribution, and use of ODDs are associated with low levels of violence in Massachusetts. Most pharmaceuticals are stolen from drugstores in the state, and robberies and breaking-and-entering crimes can result in violence. Sometimes users commit irrational acts of violence while under the influence of ODDs and their psychoactive effects. GHB, ketamine, and Rohypnol are sometimes called "date rape drugs" because some women have been raped by men who secretly administered one of these drugs to physically debilitate them and block their memory. All steroids to a greater or lesser degree have androgenic (masculinizing) effects, the most common being increased aggression. Some steroid users experience "roid rages" in which they become suddenly violent, but these occurrences are probably uncommon. In addition, the use of some hallucinogens can cause irrational and occasionally violent behavior. However, violence associated with ODD trafficking, distribution, and use in Massachusetts is minor.



A very limited amount of ODDs are produced in Massachusetts. Some MDMA might be synthesized locally by independent distributors. A laboratory containing enough chemicals to produce a 20-pound batch of MDMA was seized in Westport, near Fall River, in Bristol County in January 1998. Also, local users who obtain "recipes" from the Internet or other sources synthesize an insignificant amount of dangerous drugs, including GHB. Most ODDs, however, are obtained through illegal diversion within the state, stolen from drugstores and legal providers, or transported into
Massachusetts from other locations.



Most MDMA is manufactured in the Netherlands and Belgium and is transported to the United States from major European air hubs by way of express mail, air freight shipments, or couriers aboard commercial airline flights. Traffickers ship some MDMA directly into Massachusetts from Europe, but they transport most into the state by way of New York City, a major domestic port of entry. Some MDMA has been transported to Massachusetts from Canada and California as well.

Israeli and Russian criminal organizations dominate the transportation of MDMA. In April 2000, MDMA worth $4.5 million was seized in Boston, the largest MDMA seizure in New England history. Following the seizure, USCS officials conducted a controlled delivery and arrested two Israeli citizens who had shipped the drug from Paris to Boston via express mail. In two other incidents, Dominican transporters smuggled 30,000 to 50,000 tablets of MDMA from Canada through Vermont to Massachusetts.

Most pharmaceuticals available on the illegal market in Massachusetts are stolen from local drugstores, although some are illegally diverted from healthcare facilities in the state. Massachusetts has an estimated 161,000 healthcare professionals with access to controlled substances, more than any of the other five New England states. Ketamine, oxycodone, and diazepam are stolen from local pharmacies. Some ODDs are transported into Massachusetts from locations outside the state as well. Law enforcement reports that some Valium in Massachusetts is shipped into the state from Canada, some ketamine and steroids are obtained from suppliers in Mexico, and some LSD is obtained from suppliers in Texas.



Israeli and Russian criminal organizations that coordinate transportation of MDMA into the United States also are those most involved in the wholesale distribution of MDMA in Massachusetts. Dominican organizations occasionally are involved. Caucasian, middle-class youths aged 18-25 handle most retail distribution of MDMA and other ODDs.


End Notes

39Depending on the dosage, ketamine can be a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen.
40. Data exclude Worcester County.

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