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Senate panel probes so-called 'hug drug'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Senate committee tackled the increasingly popular drug Ecstasy during a hearing Monday on Capitol Hill.

A self-described former Ecstasy user, 16-year-old Long Island, New York, resident Dayna Moore -- who testified at the hearing -- told CNN that curiosity led her to use the drug.

"I didn't know anything about it," said Moore, who was 14 when she first tried it. "I didn't know what it could do, what it was, I just saw everybody else having a good time on it and I knew it would get me high so I did it."

One expert addressed the common perception among young people that Ecstasy is harmless. "Clearly this is a drug that you do not fear," Dr. Terry Horton, director of Phoenix House Rehabilitation Center told CNN. "They think it's a hug drug, (that) it's not dangerous and they need that information (to) the contrary."

Ecstasy no 'trivial' drug, experts warn  

Phoenix House is located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Ecstasy is methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA for short, which is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. It is sometimes called the hug drug because users experience a high that makes them feel good will toward everyone around them.

Horton called on the Senate to support additional funding and opportunities for treatment of Ecstasy abusers.

Moore said she agreed with that view. "I think they need to make parents more aware of what the drug can do, how easy it is to get, the effects."

During the hearing, Moore warned of the aftereffects of the drug. "When you come down off the pill, you're back to reality again and you're really depressed and your whole body hurts and you want to do that pill again to get back up there," Moore told the committee. "Your whole body feels just like sore and your jaw hurts, you know, you're pale, you feel weak the next day," she said.

Ecstasy use among 8th graders in the United States from 2000 to 2001 increased by 82 percent, according to statistics provided by the Senate.

The statistics also say that police seizures of Ecstasy between 1997-2000 increased by 430 percent.

The drug began appearing in the United States in the early 1990s, testified John Varrone of the U.S. Customs Service. He said each pill costs between $25 and $50 per tablet on the street.

Roy Rutland, a Miami undercover officer, testified behind an opaque panel  

Undercover narcotics Detective Roy Rutland of the Miami-Dade Police Department also testified at the hearing, hidden behind a opaque panel in order to avoid being identified by drug dealers.

Rutland said the popularity of Ecstasy has allowed it to move from the underground culture of parties known as "raves" to mainstream society.

Increased use has led to increased hospitalization, according to Horton.

"Well, it certainly is dangerous. We've seen a ten-fold increase in emergency room visits in the last four years," Horton said. "We've learned that it affects and actually damages very, very vulnerable parts of the brain involved with learning and memory. And clearly it can drive youth into addiction."

Moore offered the panel some advice for parents who want to protect their children from Ecstasy.

"They need to really, like, research and see the effects of it, learn how to tell that your child is on it, be more aware of where they're going, who they're hanging out with," Moore said. "Because if they just looked a little more into it, took a little time, it's easy to see what their children were doing."

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