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Many colleges are reaching out to students about the dangers of the illicit club drug "Molly" following a series of fatal overdoses, some involving students. While use of Molly, a more pure form of ecstasy, among college students isn't as common as use of alcohol or marijuana, the deaths have given the issue new urgency.

Following a University of New Hampshire student’s suspected overdose on Molly and the overdose of a Plymouth State University student, the vice president of student and academic services at the University of New Hampshire outlined the university's resources for drug-abuse prevention in a memo to all students.

“This is serious. Two New Hampshire college students have died in the last week,” Mark Rubinstein wrote in a letter to students. “Please act responsibly and look out for each other.”

Though overdoses from Molly account for less than 1 percent of all overdoses in Boston, the Boston Public Health Commission reached out to area colleges with information on MDMA, the active ingredient in Molly, prompted by a recent surge in suspected overdoses in the region, said Nick Martin, director of communications for the commission.   

MDMA is a stimulant that produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria and empathy and creates distortions in sensory and time perception, the commission told college administrators. Symptoms of MDMA use include confusion, a racing pulse, muscle spasms and seizures. Molly is supposedly a purer form of ecstasy, but is often mixed with other drugs, compounding its negative effects, said Pat Ketcham, president of the board of directors at the American College Health Association board of directors.

“This drug has fallen off our radar a little bit and now recently is back on,” said Ketcham, the associate director of health promotion at Oregon State University. “It’s a part of that conversation we need to have with student when we’re talking about alcohol and other illicit drugs.”

In Monitoring the Future, a report on drug use released last year, 5.8 percent of college students reported having used ecstasy, a 1.6 percentage point increase from 2011. Among 12th-grade students, annual prevalence of ecstasy use had decreased from 5.3 percent in 2011 to 3.8 percent in 2012.

The majority of young adults who are likely to try Molly at some point have already done so by the time they reach college, said David Arnold, director of alcohol abuse and impaired driving prevention initiatives at the BACCHUS Network.

Universities should  focus on the abuse of alcohol and marijuana, Arnold said. The Monitoring the Future study found that considerably more college students reported using alcohol (67.7 percent) or marijuana (20.5 percent) in a 30-day period than ecstasy (1.4 percent).

Still, universities should keep their message about ecstasy consistent, focusing on the risks of Molly and encouraging students who chose to use Molly to learn how to keep themselves and friends safe, he said.

At the University of Virginia, where a student’s recent death was linked  to Molly, the university has not made any specific plans to change its approach to drug prevention and education.  

“Building awareness and identifying risks, and offering information and alternatives is already extremely important here, and will remain so,” university spokesman McGregor McCance wrote in an e-mail.

In order to provide a comprehensive approach to substance abuse and addiction treatment, universities must see substance abuse as a medical health problem and not a fad among students, said Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“Right now, as long as we view this risky use or addiction as a moral problem or students just behaving as students do, we don’t take advantage and educate college students on the nature of the problem,” she said.



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