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DEA official decries rise in Ecstasy use

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WASHINGTON — A top government official said Monday that the growing popularity of the hallucinogen Ecstasy was the most frightening trend he had seen in his 30 years of law enforcement.

Speaking at a national conference on "club drugs," Drug Enforcement Administration head Donnie Marshall said Ecstasy and similar drugs were being brought into the United States in record amounts.

"The problem of club drugs among our youth has become pervasive, extending from larger to midsize cities throughout the United States," said Marshall, the DEA's administrator.

Marshall spoke less than a week after federal agents in Los Angeles intercepted 2.1 million tablets of Ecstasy, also known as methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Valued at $40 million, officials said it was the biggest Ecstasy haul ever.

Seizures of Ecstasy in the United States have increased dramatically over the past year. The Customs Service seized nearly 8 million tablets over the last 10 months compared to 3.5 million tablets in all of 1999.

The conference was held to help U.S. and international law enforcement officials and drug prevention experts share ideas on combating Ecstasy and club drugs like Ketamine hydrochloride, an anesthetic known as special K, and methamphetamine, a stimulant known as speed.

Marshall said a sophisticated global network had sprung up to sell club drugs.

"Organized crime syndicates have forged relationships with the Western European traffickers and are flooding our cities with synthetic drugs," he said in his speech.

Marshall said that it cost from 50 cents to one dollar to produce one dose. Once smuggled into the United States, it sold for $35 to $40 a dose.