SALT LAKE CITY — It has resulted in deaths and an increased number of overdoses across the country.
Now the emergence of "Molly" in pop culture has led to a Utah resurgence for the old drug with a new twist, police and case workers say.
“It’s pretty easy to find — you can find it at clubs, but you can also find it in our high schools and some of our middle schools,” said Christina Zidow, clinical director at Odyssey House in Salt Lake City.
According to experts, use of ecstasy and its key component MDMA seemed to wane in the 1980s and early 1990s with reports of health consequences. However, police said it never disappeared from the streets or from night clubs.
The drug has recently resurfaced, essentially rebranded in pop culture as “Molly.” A song from rapper Tyga named “Molly” repeats the name of the synthetic drug for its chorus. Singer and actress Miley Cyrus has made references to Molly in the lyrics of two different songs — “We Can’t Stop” and “Aint Worried 'Bout Nothin,” which debuted this week.
Last year, pop star Madonna came under scrutiny from a leading house music producer for asking an audience, “How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?”
Molly is supposed to be MDMA at its purest, however Zidow said the Molly that users purchase is far from pure.
“'Pure’ is in quotation marks, because you never really know what you’re going to get when you’re taking these substances,” she said.
According to Zidow, Molly is often “cut” — mixed or diluted — with other chemicals to make production cheaper, or to make the substance more hallucinogenic or more addicting.
Making the search for Molly more confounding, it comes in different shapes and sizes. Molly that was seized by Unified police during a weekend rave came in tablet form — more consistent with traditional ecstasy — as well as some different powder and crystal forms. One dealer at the event was distributing chewing gum laced with Molly, said an undercover Unified police detective who requested that he not be identified because of ongoing investigations.
The variety can lead to dangerous consequences for users — even those who are familiar with the drug.
“While someone who may have done ecstasy or MDMA or Molly a couple of times before and figured out that they sort of know how much they need to take to get the reaction that they want, taking it the third time or the fourth time may get something that has other chemicals mixed in, which will really change the effect it has on them and can lead to overdose,” Zidow said.
Numbers compiled by the Drug Abuse Warning Network show emergency room visits related to MDMA use have gone up 123 percent since 2004. Four deaths were reported along the East Coast last summer, according to Reuters.
State officials did not produce Utah-specific numbers about the drug.
Jessica Vigos grew familiar with Molly ever before it earned its new pop culture name. A worker for a downtown Salt Lake City club from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, she tried several drugs including the pure form of MDMA.
“You feel very euphoric at the time,” Vigos recalled. “You can dance for hours and at the time that seemed fun.”
However, an allergic reaction to an unknown component in the drug on one occasion quickly changed her opinion.
“I took it and within about 45 minutes I started feeling my throat swell up, started having a hard time breathing,” Vigos said.
She survived that and a meth addiction. Just days ago, she said she hit her 5-year drug-free milestone.
Addicts who show up at clinics usually do not consider Molly to be their primary drug, Zidow said. But case workers remain highly concerned about the synthetic drug because of its potential to be a “gateway” to even more dangerous substances.
People who would not initially try hardcore drugs may be inclined to try them after using MDMA. “All of a sudden cocaine becomes an option for them, and they blur their boundaries,” Zidow said.
Vigos' worries have not waned over Molly, since her 18-year-old daughter is in the age range when Molly use is prevalent.
While she feels confident in her daughter’s abilities to refrain from taking the drug, she is well aware of the widespread availability. It’s important, she said, for parents to educate their children about the consequences of the drug.
“I think that we will see just like spaying and neutering your pets is helping to reduce a population, if you’re educated on how harmful drugs can be to your body, maybe you’ll make a better choice to not do them,” Vigos said.
Police say YouTube videos showing behavior after taking Molly and other drugs are prevalent, as are videos that show the health consequences of taking the drugs. They can also serve as a good education source and deterrent for curious teens, the narcotics detective said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company