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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Campaign to expose dangers of Ecstasy

Advertiser Staff and News Services

Ecstasy use is rising among American teenagers, many of whom are unaware of the drug's dangers, an anti-drug group said in Washington yesterday.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America said it is starting an advertising campaign to warn teens about the dangers of Ecstasy, which has been linked to damage of the brain, heart and kidneys.

The group's annual survey found that overall drug use remained steady last year except for Ecstasy, which became popular over the past decade at "rave" dance parties. The number of teens who said they had ever tried the drug rose by 20 percent last year and has increased 71 percent since 1999.

The survey of 6,937 teenagers found that 12 percent of teens 12 to 18 years old had used Ecstasy. That compares with 10 percent in 2000. The survey had an error margin of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

The partnership, a coalition of communications professionals that seeks to reduce demand for drugs, relies on volunteers to create anti-drug ads. The nonprofit group wants television stations and newspapers to devote free airtime and print space for the public service announcements, said spokesman Howard Simon.

"We like to use the power of the media to persuade kids to reject substance abuse," Simon said. "We've come to the conclusion that you can use the media to sell a product, and you can use the media to un-sell a product."

One ad targeted at parents portrays a grieving father, Jim Heird, whose daughter, Danielle, 21, of Las Vegas, died the third time she used Ecstasy.

"I would've given anything for some warning signs. I would have moved. I would have locked her up. I don't care," Heird says in the commercial. "A parent's not supposed to survive their children. It's not the scheme of things."

But Mark A.R. Kleiman, director of the drug policy analysis program at the University of California at Los Angeles, called the approach dishonest. He said that while long-term use can be harmful, there is limited evidence that a single use is damaging.

"It's not a very fatal drug. Its dangers are different dangers," he said in an interview.

At a news conference, Dr. Glen Hanson, acting director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the danger of Ecstasy varies depending on the health of the person using it. For example, it is more dangerous for someone with a heart problem.

"What's the likelihood that somebody using this drug for the first time will fall over dead? It really depends on what predisposing medical conditions you're dealing with," Hanson said.

Elaine Wilson, chief of the Hawai'i Department of Health Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said the ads will raise awareness about a drug that has become more prevalent in Hawai'i the last two years.

"The ads are a good place to start," Wilson said. "But it's going to take much more than an ad campaign. Parents need to talk with their kids, find out where they're going. Parents need to check out clubs and talk to other parents. The majority of our parents don't know enough about their kids."

Honolulu police created a task force in July to deal with growing Ecstasy use among O'ahu youth.

"We see it as an emerging drug," said Maj. Darryl Perry of the narcotics/vice division. The task force has been working with rave promoters, Perry said. Children as young as 13 often attend the parties because alcohol is not served, leading parents to believe their children are safe, Perry said.

Ecstasy has been linked to several deaths, he said.

Stephen J. Pasierb, president of the partnership, said use of the synthetic drug, both a hallucinogen and amphetamine, appears to be expanding beyond clubs.

"Ecstasy has moved out of the rave scene and into the mainstream," he said.

Advertiser staff writers Brandon Masuoka and Mike Gordon contributed to this report.