'Rave drug' growing problem for Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune

7 Jul 2000 | Lance Cpl. Valerie Martinez

There is a war being fought by the Marine Corps. It's not a war to protect the innocent or a war to bring peace to a country. This is a war against drugs.

"Ecstasy", the most popular street name for 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, has become one of America's designer drugs after showing up in the mid-80's in the dance scene. It has turned into a "party drug" or "club drug".

Though first produced in 1913 by a German company for use as a weight-loss aide, the product was never marketed. In the late 1970's it was used experimentally as a psychiatric drug and throughout the years has made its way into the party scene and into the community.

Its presence at popular all night dance parties called raves has increased dramatically in the past few years, and the use of ecstasy has spread throughout the community.

There have been recent arrests and possible charges made against military and civilian personnel in Okinawa, Japan. Nine airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines are being investigated for alleged use or possession of ecstasy, according to an article published in the Marine Corps Times.

"Ecstasy has increased threefold or even more than that," said Robin Knapp, special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Services here. "Ecstasy has become a front liner of drugs used by young adults."

Manufactures of ecstasy can produce the drug easily with knowledge of basic college chemistry and a small amount of lab equipment.

Ingredients can include but are not limited to ammonia, calcium oxide, sulfuric acid, ether, copper chloride, nitric acid, methanol, muriatic acid (a swimming pool chemical) and anhydrous ethanol (Everclear).

Whether you call it E, X, XTC, the love drug or love trip, ecstasy can be very dangerous despite its seemingly harmless name.

"A lot of people think ecstasy will not hurt you," said Knapp. "Ecstasy can have all kinds of things in it, LSD, methanphetamines, cocaine, heroin. People don't realize it can contain so many things." 

The supply of MDMA to the United States is believed to come from Europe, mainly Netherlands and Belgium. It is now believed organized crime syndicates are also producing it in Israel.

Ecstasy comes in many different forms. In can be sold in powder form, in gelatin capsules and pressed tablets. The tablet pill form can be pressed with a logo or icon, identifying it to the buyer as to the type of ecstasy that it is. Various types out on the market are green triangle, dolphin, three-leaf clovers, superman, sun and running rabbit.

It affects the body in two ways, acting as both a stimulant and a hallucinogenic. It has been known to produce feelings such as closeness, empathy and relaxation.

Friendliness, excitability, increased sensory perception and laughing are a few other signs of someone who is on ecstasy. Negative effects can be teeth clenching, increased heart and breath rate, nausea, excessive sweating, insensitivity to pain and dizziness.

"A lot of times you will see kids sucking on lollipops or pacifiers due to the clenching of their teeth," said Knapp.

Signs of overdose include dehydration, hypertension, elevated temperature, vomiting, and faintness. After prolonged use, users can suffer brain damage, memory loss, depression, insomnia, seizures, kidney failure, liver failure, cardiac complications, bleeding disorders and psychosis.

Navy researchers have found that there have been 20 deaths since 1991 from the use of ecstasy, and most were due to heat stroke or cardiac arrest.

"MDMA is a very serious problem," said Knapp. "And not just for Camp Lejeune. The popularity of rave parties and ecstasy has dramatically increased." 

The increase in the selling and purchasing of ecstasy is causing a great concern to the military community and is keeping NCIS busy.

"We are busy in a lot of areas of the drug world," said Mark Ridley, supervisory special agent for NCIS. "I have worked in narcotics for 10 years, and this is the busiest I have seen it."

NCIS is a federal company that investigates military personnel and the solicitation and purchasing of narcotics. They also target civilians who sell to the military and their dependents.

"We go undercover and make controlled purchases from those individuals who we believe are selling narcotics," said Knapp. "We gather evidence against those individuals, buy maybe two, three or four times from them. We do surveillance on them and interview cooperating witnesses."

The Marine Corps has a policy of no tolerance when it comes to illegal drugs. In 1997, testing for ecstasy was added to the standard urinalysis. Ninety-four servicemembers tested positive for ecstasy in 1998, 17 Marines among them. The very next year the number jumped to 432 troops testing positive for ecstasy.

Military personnel caught using, selling or distributing narcotics will be charged under article 112A of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

"A wide range of things may happen to someone who is caught, from office hours to the maximum sentence," said Ridley.

The maximum sentence under the UCMJ is five years in the brig for each count.

"If you sell four times to an undercover agent, you are looking at a maximum of 20 years in the brig," said Knapp. "The distribution and selling of narcotics is where our mission begins."

NCIS is here to help the Marine Corps and the U.S. government fight this war on drugs, but it can not be expected to win it. It is the responsibility of all military members to uphold the standards of the Marine Corps and its no tolerance policy.  

Information in this story has been compiled from a report by the Criminal Intelligence Department of NCIS.