National rise in Molly use leads officials to raise awareness

Kathryn Hernandez first heard about Molly in a popular song on the radio.

Hernandez, a criminology major at Mason, didn't think much of the song until she received a mass email from Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life, warning students about the dangers of the drug Molly.

"You always hear about it in songs on the radio, but I didn't know that Molly was something big on campuses," Hernandez said. "So her email really brought it to the forefront that it's becoming a problem among college students."

Following a series of fatal overdoses around the country, some involving college students, Mason and Fairfax County officials hope to raise awareness of the dangers of the popular club drug “Molly.”

Molly is the powder or crystal form of MDMA, the chemical used in ecstasy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, MDMA acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen that can significantly increase heart rate and blood pressure and interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature.

Mary Ann Sprouse, director of Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education and Services (WAVES) at Mason, said that Molly is often mixed with other chemicals and drugs.

"[Doctors] have been starting to test different samples of Molly in people who come in saying they've used molly or people who are arrested with molly, and what they're finding is that it is almost always mixed with different chemicals and other drugs,” Sprouse said. “And it's not really even pure MDMA, which is dangerous enough on its own. It's MDMA plus whatever chemical or drug could be found to mix with it."

Lucy Caldwell, the public information officer for the Fairfax County Police Department, said in an email that Molly is cut with many agents and that many other drugs have been sold as Molly in Fairfax County.

Molly use has seen a significant rise among college students due to its increasing presence in popular culture.

"It’s advertised in a way that makes it seem like if you take it on the dance floor, it would amplify your experience," Pascarell said. "The danger of that is that if that’s all you know about it -- that it’s a fun, easy party drug and its effects are not long-lasting -- you’ll be more inclined to try it. But the reality is that you're taking a really big risk, and that's the part of the story that nobody is telling."

According to a press release by the FCPD, the Fairfax County Police Organized Crime and Narcotics Unit (OCN) detectives have seen approximately 168 cases involving Molly; which translates to an average of eight per month between January 2012 and August 2013. The OCN has confiscated over 3,000 pills in that time span.

“Trends in illegal narcotics are cyclic. Molly is marketed by sellers as a ‘pure’ or ‘safe’ form of MDMA, and as a result, it has become more popular,” Caldwell said. “This increased popularity has resulted in increased incidents. But it is no purer or safer [than other forms of MDMA].”

Sprouse says she has not heard of Molly use becoming an epidemic this semester.

"It's just the start of the semester, but we haven't had anybody who's admitted [to using it]. We've even asked about friends, because sometimes people will say, 'you know I have a friend who does this,' and we haven't even heard that. So, so far, we haven't heard of any," Sprouse said.

Regardless, FCPD and Mason officials have been working to increase awareness of the drug in Fairfax.

According to Caldwell, the FCPD has provided releases to the media about the dangers of Molly and created internal bulletins to patrol officers to increase awareness of what Molly is and how to spot it.

Sprouse said that information about molly has been added into all of the WAVES presentations and that a fact and information sheet has been created for University 100 professors on campus to bring up as talking points in their classes. WAVES has also been active on Facebook and Twitter in order to get the word out.

In addition to WAVES, Student Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services being a central means of educating students about Molly, Pascarell said that they are also focusing on educating student leaders.

"What we heavily depend on is training our student leaders," Pascarell said. "So whether you're a resident advisor, peer leader, Patriot Leader, peer advisor…we're thinking, you know, what are the ways we can work with student leaders who are working with other students?"

Sprouse believes that the recent Molly-related deaths of college students in the news have played a role in bringing the conversation about Molly to the surface.

She hopes by increasing awareness on campus, students will take the time to educate themselves about what they choose to put into their bodies.

"If you hear in music and pop culture that this is a safe and fun drug and there's no big deal about it, I would just ask students to investigate the other side of that," Sprouse said. "How much of it is true, what really is molly, and how can it impact my body? Right now I just think that there's so much out there saying that it's an okay drug, but it's not--it's a dangerous drug, and it can be very risky."

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