In Brief

In the mid-1990s, Ecstasy users across all age groups tended to also use hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. But as Ecstasy use has grown, those using the drug--particularly adolescents--typically have not had experience with illegal substances other than marijuana, according to a study published in the APA journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology (Vol. 13, No. 3) in August.

The increasingly common drug-naive Ecstasy users may be harder to reach with traditionally placed education messages, which are often posted in drug-treatment centers, says study author Silvia S. Martins, MD, PhD, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. They may also be less informed through informal channels about Ecstasy's side effects, she notes.

Martins and her colleagues noticed the trend while analyzing data from the federal government's annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse for the years 1995 to 2001. In 1995, roughly 2 percent of those surveyed reported using Ecstasy at least once, and 17 percent of those reporting Ecstasy use also used heroin. In 2001, the number of Ecstasy users more than doubled, but the percentage of Ecstasy users who also used heroin dropped to 12 percent.

The trend was even more pronounced among adolescents. In 1995, close to 40 percent of Ecstasy-using adolescents also used heroin, while in 2001 only seven percent also used heroin.

"As a drug becomes more widespread, people who aren't generally drug users are the people who start using the new drug," says Martins.

However, Ecstasy users do tend to binge on alcohol, she notes. With that in mind, drug educators may want to target teenagers broadly, while focusing on the sometimes-fatal effects of mixing the two drugs, Martins says.