Emergency room stories: Users 'can be uncontrollable'
CHAMPAIGN — A single dose of Ecstasy reaches the bloodstream and the brain in about 15 minutes.
The peak high arrives in 45 minutes to an hour.
Then hang on for what follows when the effects wear off after three to six hours. The downward spiral can last for days to a week, and the impact for some users can be more than they bargained for.
Call it Ecstasy, Molly, E, the street drug MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) comes pre-loaded with potentially harmful side effects, medical experts warn, though what's being sold under those names isn't necessarily all MDMA.
"Unfortunately, what happens (with Ecstasy) is that drug is spliced with others and as a result students don't know what they're getting," said Kenneth Ballom, UI dean of students and associate vice chancellor of student affairs.
A government report last December found Molly-related ER visits across the country rose 128 percent between 2005 and 2011, the most recent data available. About one-third of those visits among patients 21 and younger were tied to combined Molly and alcohol use, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found.
MDMA is both a stimulant and psychedelic. It creates a boost of energy and euphoria by increasing the activity of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine.
The excess release of serotonin is likely responsible for the mood-elevating effects of the drug, but the depleted levels of serotonin later also contribute to the negative aftereffects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Reported effects up to a week or longer after MDMA have included anxiety, restlessness, irritability, sadness, impulsiveness, aggression, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, thirst, significant reductions in mental abilities and less interest and pleasure from sex, the agency says.
Risks associated with Molly include increased heart rate and blood pressure, acute kidney failure, and a dangerous overheating condition called hyperthermia. Heavy users can also be at risk for seizures and heart arrhythmia.
Some users experience teeth grinding and clenching — called bruxism — and chew on pacifiers or use lollypops for relief.
The bruxism "can be uncontrollable," said University of Illinois Police Detective Sgt. Joe McCullough. "We will talk to individuals under the influence and they can't stop grinding their teeth."
In contrast to the national study, local hospitals don't tend to see Ecstasy-related emergencies.
"In comparison to how much heroin we're seeing in this community, Ecstasy is not a problem," said Dr. Mike Swindle, an emergency department physician at Carle Foundation Hospital.
Identifying Ecstasy users is a challenge for emergency room staff, though, because patients generally don't acknowledge they used it, or in some cases, they don't even know, says Dr. James Szudera, director of emergency services at Presence United Samaritans Medical Center, Danville.
"They think we're going to call the cops or we're going to come down on them, or there are family members in there," he said.
Heroin users are more easily identified at the hospital by the needle track marks and other clinical signs, Szudera said, and that also makes it harder for the patients, themselves, to lie about it.
Ecstasy users who don't disclose that detail at the hospital after being treated for, say, a seizure, may also never follow up with their primary care doctors as they're instructed to do when they're discharged, Szudera said.
"Unless they do, and have somebody else come back and identify that they were taking ecstasy, it goes undiagnosed," he said.
Sherri Rudicil, prevention director at the substance abuse treatment agency the Prairie Center, warns adolescents and teens they have no idea what they're getting in a dose of Molly.
"People can put anything in it," she said. "It could be cocaine, meth, it could be ground-up kitty litter."