There's a new drug of choice among teens in both Riverhead and on the North Fork, and according to experts, most parents have no clue that the drug exists -- or that their teens are hooked.
The drug, called "Molly," is the powder or crystal form of MDMA, the chemical used in making ecstasy, said Susan Toman, of the Guidance Center in Southold. MDMA, she said, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy toward others, and distortions in sensory and time perception.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Molly's technical name is 1-(3-Trifluoromethylphenyl) piperazine, or TFMPP.
Taken in large doses, Molly causes hallucinogenic reactions; the DEA considers MDMA to be a schedule I controlled substance, and can cause confusion, anxiety, depression, paranoia, sleep problems, and drug craving. The drug also can cause muscle tension, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramps, nausea, faintness, chills, sweating, and blurred vision.
In addition, the DEA reported that high doses of MDMA can interfere with the ability to regulate body temperature, resulting in a sharp increase in body temperature and hyperthermia, leading to liver, kidney and cardiovascular failure. Severe dehydration can result, the DEA said.
Experts warn Molly is being used by area teens. "Molly is being experimented with by youth on the North Fork and Riverhead and I am sure through out the United States," Toman said. "The hip hop community promotes it in music," she said.
A Huffington Post report, Madonna was criticized in March for asking, at a music festival, "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?" The crowd, the article stated, cheered.
Toman said the drug can cause euphoric feelings. "They're walking around with rose-color glasses that last for a few hours. Students have been known to attend school and be able to function on Molly," she said.
In addition, Toman said, teens are experimenting with other synthetic substances, such as Smiles, a hallucinogenic drug -- and others that can be smoked in "e-cigarettes," electronic cigarettes that look like nicotine cigarettes but can be filled with synthetic drugs and masked with pleasant scents so parents remain unaware.
John Corbett, clinical coordinator at Mary Haven Center of Hope in Riverhead, works with teens and adults addicted to Molly and other synthetic drugs in "Steps to Life" program.
Corbett recently addressed the alarming topic of widespread Molly use at a forum held at Mattituck High School in December.
"Molly is like the 70s version of crack," he said. Teens, Corbett said, are combining Molly with other drugs, including marijuana and alcohol.
"This is not just happening in Mattituck and Riverhead," Corbett said. "It's everywhere. It begins with adolescents -- it's their drug of choice. Gone are the days when kids smoked marijuana and had a can of beer."
Today, Corbett said, teens are shooting dope, sniffing heroin, injecting "oxys and roxies," or the pill form of heroin, and opiate, and using Smiles, a form of K2, another dangerous synthetic "designer" drug.
But, Bennett said, although kids love the "highs and lows," of Molly, the crash is a hard one; body chemicals are being reconfigured and body temperatures being manipulated -- something that can cause dangerous medical issues, he said.
"Kids are experimenting with this on a regular basis," Bennett said.
Molly can sell for anywhere from $8 to $25, but because the drug is so highly addicting, he said, "They're buying a lot of it."
Corbett said his agency works with the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, the department of probation, and the East End Regional Intervention Court, and is able to test for Molly and other synthetic drugs -- as well as alcohol, as much as 96 hours later.
Corbett will be kicking off a new counseling program inside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility on Friday.
Molly, he said, is a drug parents should fear, causing a spike in emergency room visits, with teens experiencing heart palpitations, hallucinations, and lower than normal body temperatures.
"There's been a boom," he said. "This is not just in high school -- even adults are using it. It's te new feel-good drug."
Toman said synthetic drugs work with chemicals with in the brain that help regulate mood by increasing the activity of three neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
"When depleted of these natural occurring neurotransmitters, youth can fall into depression. It can be for a short period time, while others may need to be hospitalized," she said. "Brain chemistry is general and yet unique. Some of our youth do not have the advantage of an abundant supply of these neurotransmitters. It is playing a psychological Russian roulette."
Toman said she believes adults have a responsibility to educate young people in health and science classes about the reality of synthetic drugs.
"We must act -- and stay current with the war on drugs," she said.
Toman said she's heard from teens and professionals that synthetics are on the rise on the North Fork and Riverhead.
But because not everyone is aware of the synthetic drugs or how to test for them, Toman said there have been instances when diagnoses could not be made.
"Youth have died in emergency rooms," Toman said. "We need to stay current, to battle the romanticizing of these dangerous substances."
Prevention, Toman said, is key. "What causes our young people to seek these escapes? That is part of what needs to be answered."
Studies and surveys similar to those done on the North Fork in 2006 and 2012 need to continue every two years, even in the face of a faltering economy, Toman said.
"As a doctor puts on a cast to heal a broken bone, so can some of these prevention programs be implemented universally to aid in reducing underage drinking and substance abuse. Our communities and youth and families are broken - we need to act now."
Such programs, she said, include "Too Good for Drugs," a program used nationwide in grades K through 12.
Also necessary, Toman said, are educating those that sell alcohol and holding them to the responsibility of checking and proofing youth, enforcing the social host law; keg registration; and training local law enforcement for proper party disbursement of youth.
Parents, Toman said, need to be parents. "We need skills to parent our children through this dangerous environment. Knowledge is the key. Awareness that if we are not clear about the boundaries regarding our laws our norms, that we are giving our youth a message of indifference. We need to set clear and strong boundaries both in our families and within our community."
Youth education, parent support groups, family counseling, support of law enforcement, and encouraging the business community to be onboard are also important, Toman said.
Community groups and government leaders need to become involved, as well -- a collaborative approach is key, Toman said.
The Guidance Center Services as lead agency for the Communities That Care, a community coalition committed to change, she said.
In partnership with Communities That Care and the Southold Town Recreation Center, The Guidance Center has offered healthy alternatives, including 'tween and teen dances featuring local talent, and offering healthy socialization in a safe chaperoned environment.
"It is my hope that through all the aspects of community partnered in prevention we lessen the number of youth that need treatment and make more available treatment for those that do," Toman said.