The House Crime Subcommittee took a look Thursday at the illegal smuggling, sale and use of so-called "club drugs," which users say increase their stamina and give them a sense of euphoria.
Bringing these drugs — ecstasy, methamphetamines and others — into the United States is big business. This week alone, an international ecstasy drug ring was busted in Los Angeles. The U.S. Customs Service confiscated 650,000 tablets, with a street value of $19.5 million.
"It's very lucrative from a smuggler's standpoint. Tablets cost just pennies to produce in Europe and can sell for as much as 40 bucks a pill," Customs Acting Deputy Commissioner of Investigations Joe Varrone told legislators Thursday.
Ecstasy use is surging. In 1998, Customs seized 750,000 doses. Last year, it netted 3.5 million pills, and so far this year, almost 6 million tablets. And in March, Customs set up an ecstasy task force, which meets daily and coordinates police action in the United States and around the world.
Doctors say ecstasy and its counterparts can hurt the user's mind and body.
"Ecstasy can produce a substantial increase in heart rate and blood pressure and they also lead to dehydration, overheating and heart or kidney failure," according David McDowell, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University.
"As a physician and parent, I urge you, the members of Congress, to do whatever you can, be it education or stiffer criminal penalties, to help us keep the youth of America safe from these dangerous, deadly drugs," said Laurence Des Rochers, an emergency-room doctor at Community Hospital in Toms River, N.J.
One witness, Jonathan Paulkins of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, disagreed, saying treatment is a better solution than prosecution because increased law enforcement would send the drugs further underground.
Now Congress is deciding what to do about ecstasy and drugs like it. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., has introduced legislation that would increase federal penalties and fund public education program to limit the use of club drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine, GHB, LSD, methamphetamine, rohypnol and PMA. A similar bill, the "New Drugs of the 1990s Control Act," is in the Senate.
— Fox News' Collins Spencer and Stacey Lloyd contributed to this report