Responding to a growing epidemic of Ecstasy drug use among teens and young adults in Santa Clara County, a countywide initiative is being launched to educate youth, parents and the community about the dangers of the drug. The initiative includes the release of a youth inspired “Ecstasy: Lives Out of Balance” documentary and music video that highlight the myths and dangers of using MDMA.

“Ecstasy is a health issue that reaches into communities. Many teens think it’s just a feel good drug that removes their inhibitions. They don’t understand that Ecstasy is dangerous,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Chair of the Board’s Health and Hospital Committee.  “The Ecstasy initiative is a call to action to ‘spread the word’ to all youth, parents, schools, and community members that Ecstasy use is dangerous and deadly.”
According to a survey of teens in Santa Clara County, as many as one in four youth have tried Ecstasy at least once.

“The increase in Ecstasy use that we have seen in Santa Clara County has made it a public health emergency. Using ecstasy can have devastating long-term health effects, including memory loss and brain damage. It’s up to everyone in the community to help raise awareness about this extremely harmful drug,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County Health Officer.
In the past, Ecstasy was used most frequently in a club setting. But in recent years, there has been a shift to home use. The “Ecstasy: Lives Out of Balance” documentary showcases stories from teens who have taken Ecstasy at raves or just at home, and how it has impacted their lives. It also shows the devastating impact on the families, the teenage brothers and sisters, of those who have died from taking the drug.  The video is available at

In 2001, there were 100 U.S. deaths among youth related to Ecstasy, and in 2010, that number grew to more than 500 deaths. In 2001, Ecstasy pills were most frequently purchased and taken at a rave, at cost of about $20 per pill. In 2010, Ecstasy pills were more widely available at a lower cost of $3-10 per pill, taken several at a time, and often before an event. Ecstasy use is found among all social economic groups and has most recently spread to a younger group at the middle school level.
Ecstasy is a man-made drug. Other substances such as caffeine, dextromethorphan (found in some cough syrups), amphetamines, PCP or cocaine, are sometimes added or substituted for MDMA in Ecstasy tablets. MDMA makers can add anything they want to the drug.  Similar stamps may be used to create pills that look alike, but actually contain completely different chemical compositions. Teens never really know what drugs they are taking nor the dangers of potential drug interactions.  Some so-called Ecstasy pills contain slower acting ingredients, which can lead to unsuspecting users popping more pills, thinking that they need to take more to feel the effect, by the time the delayed effect kicks in they may be in a precarious overdose situation.

“Taking just one Ecstasy pill can be fatal. People don’t always know the dose of Ecstasy they are taking, but many other chemicals can also be mixed in with that pill,” said Michelle Jorden, MD, Santa Clara County Assistant Medical Examiner. “People who take Ecstasy are at a high risk for a drug overdose, or some other fatal combination of drugs. In addition, Ecstasy can cause fatal electrolyte levels in the body, even in people who are otherwise healthy.”

Teens and young adults taking Ecstasy often believe the myth that Ecstasy pills are safe if taken as directed. They don’t know that the potential drug interactions, side effects or overdose can have long term and deadly effects.   The initial feelings of happiness, increased energy and diminished fear and anxiety, disappear when the drug leaves their system and can leave the user with anxiety, depression, fatigue, impaired attention, and insomnia.  Long term effects can include depression, anxiety, long term memory loss and problems with attention and concentration. Symptoms of an overdose include total confusion, muscle twitching, cardiac arrhythmia, heart damage, cardiac arrest, hemorrhage and/or stroke, severe hyperthermia and coma and death.

Ecstasy use has been a growing problem in the Bay Area, and with the increase in use, more deaths have been a result. Since 2009, five people have died in Santa Clara County after using Ecstasy; one died from a massive overdose, two from fatal electrolyte levels in their bodies due to Ecstasy use, and two others died in Ecstasy-related car crashes. In other recent Santa Clara County cases, while not the direct cause of death, Ecstasy has been found in the systems of people who have died.

In 2010, two deaths and several hospitalizations occurred following “Pop: the Dream” festival at the Cow Palace “Pop” means to ingest an Ecstasy pill.  The two deaths were young adults who lived in Santa Clara County. Assembly Bill 74, authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, was formulated in response to deaths at large raves at the Cow Palace as well as at the Los Angeles Coliseum.  The legislation requires that organizers of raves or other large events held on state property such as the Cow Palace will have to ensure that safety guidelines are met before hosting the event, and requires the governing board of a state fairground to perform a threat assessment prior to hosting an event with an expected attendance of 10,000 or more people.
“We want to reach out to everyone in our community,” said Stephen Betts, Children, Family & Community Services Division Director for the Santa Clara County Department of Alcohol & Drug Services. “We found an Ecstasy problem in our community and are responding to it. There are many youth in our community that feel powerless in the hands of these drugs and have asked for our help. We are working with other stakeholders to try and get the word out about the consequences of this drug.”

The countywide initiative will take an interdisciplinary approach that includes: collaboration in an interagency, inter-county, interstate and inter-country collaboration, education of youth, parents, schools, legal and medical communities, and the legislature; and prevention