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Boston-area campuses warn students about dangers of Molly in wake of recent overdoses

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  September 10, 2013 02:46 PM

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Campus administrators, police, municipal leaders and public health officials are warning college students in the Boston-area about the dangers of Molly in the wake of a string of overdoses and arrests related to the so-called “club drug” in recent weeks.

Molly, an illegal stimulant which is said to be a purer form of ecstasy or MDMA, has become increasingly popular around college campuses because the drug can deliver a quick, long-lasting high at a relatively low cost, according to substance abuse experts.

Tufts University officials have posted information about Molly to the school’s website and are sharing facts and tips via social media, said campus spokeswoman Kimberly Thurler. Administrators also distributed a fact sheet, hung posters around campus and have included information about the drug during health presentations and in drug and alcohol training for fraternities and sororities.

The public safety department at the Berklee College of Music distributed informational flyersto students last week, campus spokeswoman Margo Edwards said.

Campus police at Emerson College also sent out advisories to students, said school spokeswoman Carole McFall. The Boston University Police Department posted information and tips about MDMA on its website and the school has also used social media to warn about the harm the drug can cause.

“We haven’t had an issue with it, but there’s a lot of awareness involved among the students with what’s going on,” said BU spokesman Colin Riley.

“Nobody should be engaging in taking club drugs, because you never know where it came from,” he said. “And the message isn’t just don’t do it, but also to keep an eye out for your friends.”

On Wednesday, Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate John R. Connolly will propose that the council schedule a hearing soon “to examine ways to combat the abuse of molly.”

Members of the city’s health commission and police department along with members of local campus police, undergraduate deans, university health services and students would be invited to the proposed hearing, Connolly wrote in a letter filed with the council.

“The use of molly has become more and more common on college campuses, at concerts, and in the electronic dance music community and is suspected to have played a role in a number of serious overdoses,” recently, the letter said.

The Boston Public Health Commission has already launched an awareness campaign to target college campuses and music venues.

“As you may know, Boston has seen a recent surge in suspected overdoses associated with ‘club drugs,’” Barbara Ferrer, head of the health commission, wrote in a letter sent last week to college and university administrators. “As the semester begins and students return to Boston, we urge you to educate them about the dangers of using MDMA and other illicit drugs.”

Along with the letter, Ferrer sent campus leaders fact sheets about MDMA and other stimulants and about ways to prevent overdoses.

Health commission spokesman Nick Martin said the city is also distributing specially-made posters to clubs and music venues. The posters say to avoid taking drugs, especially when mixed with alcohol and to avoid leaving drinks unattended. The signs also list some tell-tale symptoms a person might experience if they have taken too much of a drug.

He said city officials held a meeting with major venue managers on Monday to discuss drug use outreach and prevention efforts.

Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan, a Plymouth State University student from New Hampshire, died after a concert at the House of Blues in Boston from what police suspect was an overdose of MDMA. The drug was also been blamed for the non-fatal overdoses of two others at the concert.

Several days later, University of New Hampshire student Olivia Rotondo, 20, of North Providence, R.I., and recent Syracuse University graduate Jeffrey Russ, 23, of Rochester, N.Y. died of suspected MDMA overdoses after a concert festival in New York. And, two other non-fatal MDMA overdoses were reported at a concert at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston.

Other Molly-related problems have been reported recently, including a string of overdoses and arrests at the Ocean Club in Quincy. Other local clubs have stepped up drug enforcement policies. Law enforcement has boosted its efforts to combat the use and distribution of the drug. And, some music venues have even canceled shows as concerns about the drug grow.

William Carlo oversees a program at UMass Boston to train substance abuse counselors.

Carlo, who has counseled and treated people with substance abuse problems, but said he has never been confronted with someone who said they were addicted to MDMA.

He said he, like other experts, believe the recent problems tied to Molly likely stem from a combination of two factors: users are unknowingly buying and ingesting a widely-distributed “bad batch” of the man-made drug that has been mixed, or “cut,” with more potent and harmful substances than ecstasy – like amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine – and because people drinking excessively while they are on Molly.

“It’s probably some of both, but there’s a reason why all of a sudden there were so many adverse consequences,” he said. “What makes college students more susceptible is that they often abuse alcohol.”

MDMA can cause increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and extreme dehydration, according to experts, especially when combined with alcohol and in a hot, crowded area, like at a concert or dance club.

Carlo said he has not heard of Molly being an issue at all at UMass Boston, which he pointed out is not a residential campus.

Even at schools where large amounts of students live and party on campus, Molly has rarely if ever drawn any legitimate concern, said Carlo, who also co-directs an alcohol intervention program at Boston College and consults other schools about drugs and alcohol.

“Up until this fall, it hasn’t really been on the radar as a problem anywhere,” he said.

Ian Wong, director of alcohol and health education at Tufts, said he has not seen known of students using Molly in his three decades working on the campus. But, he said the university has included a special focus at the start of this academic year on educational campaigns and outreach related to MDMA.

“Alcohol is the number one drug on most college campuses, but there are other drugs that may be out there and we want to educate students about the risks that go with them,” said Wong. “Whenever you use any kind of drug you risk harm to yourself.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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