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The Heroin Of The Heartland

The term drug abuse conjures up images of heroin addicts on big-city streets, but one of the most abused drugs in the country is ecstasy and it's turning up in small towns across America.

The startling growth in ecstasy use is probably due to the common perception that it is a relatively harmless party drug, reports CBS News Correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

On the contrary, it is a dangerous high that extracts a big price from the teen-agers who use it to attain euphoria.

Dr Drew Pinsky, a chemical dependency expert who hosts the MTV show Loveline says he is asked about it often and his message is always the same.

"Ecstasy damages your brain," he says. "Drugs of abuse, the ones they're choosing to use today, harm your brain, structurally alter - forever - your brain."

Despite warnings like these, ecstasy use is exploding. Most of it is manufactured in Europe, and comes through major U.S. airports, like New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

At LAX, 13 dog teams are now trained to sniff out ecstasy. and the work has paid off. Last year, federal agents around the country seized more than 3 million ecstasy pills. This year isn't even half over, and they've already seized more than 5 million tablets.

Just one bust this month in San Francisco netted 500,000 pills. This represents the single largest seizure of ecstasy in the United States to date.

If this is what they're catching, imagine what's getting through. Customs agents say a nightmare scenario would be a failure to bring the spread of this drug under control.

Many young people report that the vast majority of their friends - 90 percent or more - use the drug and that includes youngsters in small towns in the nation's midsection.

Because of this, says Dr. Alan Leshner of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, parents need to pay attention and not dismiss it as a harmless club drug.

"Parents need to kick a little ass, I'm sorry to say,"Pinsky says."You need to be vigilant, and you need to have zero tolerance, and you need to assume they're doing this stuff, and you'd be right."

Specialists say there is no such thing as a safe dose, a safe amount of ecstasy.

But young people will tell you differently, say Peter and Katherine Jones, whose college-age son died of an ecstasy overdose.

"Your child is going to deny everything," Jones says. "They will deny the deaths. We had two autopsies of this, the cause of this (his son's} death, it can't be denied.

"They will deny the studies of long-term damage to the brain. They will say that people who were harmed by the drug used megadoses or a batch that was poorly designed. They will be bulldogs into hanging on to the thing."

The Jonses say they first learned of their son's drug use 10 months before his death when he was found on the sidewalk in the South Market area of San Francisco and they thought the experience would be a wake-up call for him.

"This was such a terrifying eperience that we were almost happy that it happened," Katherine Jones says. "He emerged from it intact. He was terrified also at the time. So, we were just certain that that was going to be the end of it."

The Jonses have no idea what made their son return to drug use, but now, after his death from an ecstasy overdose, they say the drug's attraction is a fatal one.

Their surviving son, Patrick, says he wouldn't even consider using the drug now but he admits to having experimented with it in the past.

"It's really simply euphoric, like everybody else says," he recalls. "My memories of it are very vividly that everything is fine. I mean, all your problems are wiped away for the time being and, it's relaxing. Ad it's very obviously an easy way to ditch your problems and just enjoy the moment."

He joins his parents in warning young people to stay away from the drug and in urging parents who suspect their children of ecstasy use to involved a professional therapist immeiately.

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