US High School Seniors Underreport Ecstasy Use — Study

The use of ecstasy among adolescents and young adults in the United States has gone down significantly since 2001, according to national surveys. However, it may be just a fig leaf for a more serious situation that is brewing surreptitiously. The rampant use of molly, which is also a form of ecstasy, may seem to undermine such claims.

Ecstasy, the street name for the drug MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception about surrounding objects and conditions. Its effects could be both like stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of a surge in energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, including distorted sensory and time perception.

A recent study by the New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) compared the self-reported use of ecstasy/MDMA use with and without “molly” in the definition. The study, titled “Underreporting of Ecstasy Use among High School Seniors in the U.S.,” found that self-reported lifetime use was quite high with molly in the definition. It was 8.0 percent versus 5.5 percent, as per the study, published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence in June 2016.

“Differences in reported use appear to be driven by those reporting use only a couple of times,” said Joseph J. Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., an affiliate of CDUHR and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC).

Palmar added, “This is troubling as it suggests that ecstasy use — at least among infrequent users — is being underreported when Molly isn’t included in the definition.”

The source of the data used for the study is Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationwide ongoing annual study of behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The survey annually assesses 15,000 high school seniors in approximately 130 public and private schools across 48 states in the U.S.

Underreporting a major concern

The researchers randomly distributed three survey forms among the respondents and asked them about ecstasy use. One of the forms included “molly” in the definition. The three parameters — “self-reported lifetime, 12-month, and 30-day ecstasy use” were then compared to find whether having “molly” in the definition had anything to do with prevalence and frequency of use.

When the researchers zeroed in on the 6,250 students who answered the questions on ecstasy in the survey forms, they found that underreporting of ecstasy use was associated with less experienced users and they did not report recent use.

They came to the conclusion that national surveys reporting the prevalence of ecstasy use in the U.S. when “molly” was not included in the definition of ecstasy may be flawed and miscued the gravity of the actual situation.

“Street names for drugs tend to change over time and it’s important to consider these names when asking people about use,” said Dr. Palamar. “Underreported use may suggest prevalence or popularity of a potentially dangerous drug is decreasing and this may equate to less public health concern.”

He calls for creating more awareness about ecstasy and other drugs and consequences of their abuse among adolescents and young adults.

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