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    March 2015

    Responding to Molly and Other Drug Use on Campus

    close up of hand holding a pill

    A recent episode of overdoses on a college campus related to MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, may have campus administrators considering how they would respond to a similar incident.

    After falling out of the spotlight for a few years, MDMA came back into view following the 2013 death of two college students who ingested the drug at a concert in New York and a cluster of overdoses in the Boston area. MDMA, a synthetic psychoactive drug taken in tablet form, acts as a stimulant through the body’s release of serotonin resulting in increased heart rate and blood pressure. Taking MDMA in high doses can lead to seizures or hyperthermia resulting in system failure or, rarely, death.

    Prevention and Education

    Some experts believe that use of MDMA may be on the rise in part due to its decline in use during the mid-2000s. A 2013 Monitoring the Future report says there may be “generational forgetting” of the drug’s dangers. Your campus should consider these actions for addressing problems with drugs such as Molly:

    • Distribute information on the dangers of specific drugs. Following the 2013 cluster of Molly overdoses in the Boston area, many institutions circulated or posted information about the incidents and education about the drug’s risks.
    • Conduct additional training. Reiterate to resident advisors the warning signs of drug abuse and overdose, including specific drugs such as Molly, and remind them of your institution’s protocols for dealing with suspected substance abuse.
    • Provide links on the institution’s website to campus or community resources for the treatment of substance abuse.
    • Consider your medical amnesty/Good Samaritan policy. Many student conduct policies exempt emergencies involving drug or alcohol consumption from some or all disciplinary action. If your campus’s policy only covers alcohol-related emergencies, consider adding drug use to the policy.

    Responding to a Crisis

    A drug overdose on campus could trigger your crisis response plan. Make sure your plan addresses:

    • How to coordinate a medical response in the event that multiple students need transportation to the hospital
    • Crisis communications to provide target audiences with timely information about the drug, where students may have ingested it or where it came from, and the symptoms of an overdose
    • When to involve law enforcement agencies, which may have  information on local drug trends, such as sales on your campus

    Test your plan by conducting a tabletop exercise with members of your crisis team, including those who would play a key role in responding to campus overdoses. Look at recent scenarios in the news and walk through your response to similar situations on campus.


    MDMA Drug Facts
    UE Crisis Planning Guide
    UE Crisis Response Learning Program
    Vanderbilt University Policy on Alcohol and Controlled Substances
    Florida State Medical Amnesty Policy

    By Heather Salko, senior risk management counsel


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