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    Responding to Ecstasy and Other Drug Use on Campus

    Ecstasy returned to the spotlight in 2013 following a cluster of overdoses in the Boston area and the deaths of two college students who ingested it at a concert in New York.

    MDMA, known as ecstasy or “molly,” a synthetic psychoactive drug taken in tablet form, acts as a stimulant through the body’s release of serotonin. It results in increased heart rate and blood pressure. Taking ecstasy in high doses can lead to seizures or hyperthermia resulting in system failure or, rarely, death.

    Some experts believe ecstasy use may be on the rise in part due to its decline in use during the mid-2000s. A Monitoring the Future report says there may be generational forgetting of the drug’s dangers, as use of ecstasy has increased in young people located in urban centers. 

    Many institutions take the following actions to address problems with ecstasy and similar drugs:

    • Distribute information on the dangers of specific drugs. The recent cluster of ecstasy overdoses led many institutions to provide education about the incidents and the drug’s risks.
    • Conduct more training. Reiterate to resident advisors the warning signs of drug abuse and overdose, including specific drugs such as ecstasy, and remind them of your protocols for dealing with suspected substance abuse.
    • Provide links on the institution’s website to campus or community resources for substance abuse treatment.
    • Review your medical amnesty or 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. Ensure your plan addresses:

    • How to coordinate a medical response if several students need transportation to the hospital
    • Crisis communications to provide target audiences — students, resident assistants, or administrators — timely information about the drug, where students may have ingested it or where it came from, and symptoms of an overdose
    • When to involve law enforcement agencies, which may have information on local drug trends including 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.

    More From United Educators

    A Guide to Creating and Improving a Campus Crisis Communications Plan

    Crisis Response Learning Program


    MDMA Drug Facts

    Vanderbilt University Policy on Alcohol and Controlled Substances

    Florida State Medical Amnesty Policy

    By Heather Salko, senior risk management counsel