Drugs such as ecstasy, GHB and rohypnol are being widely used at "raves," all-night dances where young people also often drink alcohol, Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said Thursday.
The use of the drugs alone or in combination with alcohol can be deadly, he said, noting that emergency-room admissions involving the drugs have risen sharply.
"There is no such thing as recreational drug use," Leshner said. "This kind of thing has serious consequences."
He said his agency, part of the National Institutes of Health, has opened an Internet site at www.clubdrugs.org and is sending thousands of information cards and warning brochures to community organizations, schools and colleges nationwide.
Young people wrongly believe the drugs are safe, when in fact they can have long-term effects on how the brain performs, leading to a loss of judgment or memory and in some cases may be fatal, said Dr. Bennett Leventhal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"Some people are particularly vulnerable," Leventhal said. "One dose can be enough to kill, one dose can be enough to do damage."
"Kids are taking these drugs without any idea of the damage they cause, especially when combined with alcohol," added Arthur T. Dean of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
GHB, for example, tends to lure people who say they would never use "real drugs" like cocaine. They say GHB gives them the relaxed, uninhibited feeling of a few drinks but faster, cheaper and without the telltale alcohol smell.
However, the colorless, odorless liquid or sometimes a powder can cause sudden comas and seizures. Originally developed as a surgical anesthetic, it depresses breathing, officials say.
Rohypnol is also colorless and odorless and has become known as a date-rape drug because it can be slipped into a woman's drink without her knowledge and tends to produce amnesia.
Ecstasy is a methamphetamine that increases heart rate and body temperature, sometimes to dangerous levels.
Other names for some of these club drugs include XTC, adam, clarity, Georgia home boy, cat valiums, roofies, roche, speed, ice, meth, crystal, crank, fire and glass, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In addition to the education campaign, Leshner said his agency is boosting its commitment to research these drugs by 40 percent to $54 million in fiscal 2000.