With classes now in session at most Boston-area colleges, city officials are launching efforts against the drug known as "molly," including posting undercover police officers at music festivals in Boston this upcoming weekend.
Investigators blame molly for a recent spike in overdoses. Boston Police have cited the Bank of America Pavilion after two people overdosed from the drug at a concert there last weekend. That same day, two young people — including a University of New Hampshire student — died at a music festival in New York.
Those weekend incidents follow several other molly overdoses, one of them fatal at a Boston nightclub last week.
Molly is the street name for MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy. It's essentially a stimulant, considered stronger than ecstasy, and those who use it say it gives them more energy, makes them feel euphoric, and improves their sexual experiences.
"The first time I took it it was crystal form. I ingested it, and it was definitely a bonding experience. I took it with a partner, and we were just out-of-this-world," said a 25-year-old from the greater Boston area who didn't want his name used and no longer does molly but says among his friends its use is widespread.
"I would say probably 75 percent of the people I associate with have used it at least once," he said.
He says the drug is so popular because it's relatively easy to get, it's fairly inexpensive at about $20 to $50 a dose, and it's difficult to detect. Until now, it wasn't perceived to be addictive or all that dangerous.
The Boston Public Health Commission says less than 1 percent of overdoses in the city can be attributed to so-called "club drugs," such as molly. But addiction specialists cite other numbers; they say nationwide there's been a 100 percent increase in emergency room visits linked to MDMA over the past decade.
Dr. John Kelly, associate director for addiction medicine at Mass General Hospital, says young people should be aware that the health effects from molly are unclear because it's usually amateur chemists who are constantly working to make a stronger drug, and the powder can then be cut with unknown substances.
"[It's] the heightened use of this more potent crystallized form of the active ingredient of ecstasy. And I think that's what young people need to know — they are really risking their lives if they're taking it in, especially in this crystal form," Dr. Kelly explained.
Boston officials are trying to get the word out. City health and licensing officials plan to meet with the owners of several clubs and concert venues next week to discuss educating their staff and their customers about the dangers of the drug. The Boston Public Health Commission is printing educational materials to hand out to young people warning them about molly.
At a press conference Tuesday, Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly says he'll file an order Wednesday asking for hearings with college administrators, police and business leaders.
"As hundreds of thousands of college students return to Boston, it's critical that we develop a comprehensive strategy to keep our young people safe from the increasing prevalence of this substance," Connolly said. "And we need to take that action to crack down on its use to prevent overdoses."
Some colleges are already taking action. Boston University police are warning students.
Bill Carlo, director of the Addiction Counselor Education Program at UMass Boston, consults with other area colleges about substance use among students. Molly will be the first topic he addresses in his classes and his meetings with students — but he says such education has to be done right.
"The best way I've found to work with college kids is to have them look at their own value system, have them see, what are they are getting from this drug and what are they losing from this drug? 'If I spent all my money, stayed up all night, and I wasn't able to study,' there are consequences in everybody's life. It has to come from their point of view," he said.
The 25-year-old former molly user advises officials not to overdo it.
"I think the more ostracized, the more it's going to be glamorized. 'Oh man, I can't wait to try this!' " he said.
This program aired on September 4, 2013.