published Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Chattanooga narcotics officers see rise in seizures of Molly

What is Molly?

A Schedule I controlled substance that is ingested and is considered a stimulant and psychedelic. Many use it to reduce inhibition and create heighten feelings of euphoria, empathy and sexuality. Side effects include confusion, anxiety, paranoia, sweating, tremors, teeth clenching, increased heart rate and hypothermia.

Most of the MDMA found in the U.S. is smuggled over the border from labs in Canada and from the Netherlands. A few labs are located in the U.S.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration

A familiar face is posing as a new one.

She promises to help lower inhibitions. She'll create a sense of euphoria.

Ecstasy, which surged in popularity decades ago in the nightclub scene in the form of tablets, has been reincarnated as Molly. The newer form comes in pure powder enclosed in capsules.

Chattanooga narcotics officers have found close to 50 grams over the past couple of months by executing search warrants.

"We are definitely seeing it. In November and December, we're seeing more of it," said Narcotics Sgt. Tammy Cook. "Just in the last few months, we've seen more than in months past."

The powder is mostly swallowed or snorted.

"We'll track it over the next couple of months and see if it increases," Cook said.

Molly's growing prominence in Chattanooga comes as the drug's availability and abuse seem to have peaked nationwide, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration's National Drug Threat Assessment.

In all, law enforcement across the country seized 390 kilograms of MDMA, or ecstasy, in 2012. That's down from 675 kilograms confiscated in 2011.

Yet emergency room data suggests that abuse among teens and young adults remains strong.

Emergency room data released this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed increased visits by ecstasy patients younger than 21 years old.

In 2005, emergency rooms recorded 4,460 visits by patients younger than 21 who had ingested ecstasy, according to HHS. By 2010, ER visits peaked at 11,316. By 2011, the number of ER visits was 10,176 -- down from the year before but still 128 percent over the 2005 number.

Jennifer Homa, a spokeswoman for Erlanger Health System, said there are no local statistics on ecstasy-related trips to the emergency room.

"Many times the ER staff does not know what the patient has ingested and treats the symptoms or condition that is present," she said. "Therefore, any type of overdose of medication or illegal substance is coded as 'ingestion.' In the last three years there have been 813 ingestion cases just in the Children's Emergency Room."

Dealers have cashed in on the drug's popularity, even making it into pop culture with artists from Miley Cyrus to Kanye West incorporating Molly into song lyrics.

The dealers Chattanooga police busted in the past few months were all in their late 20s. All are men. Some black, some white. All three set up shops in different areas of town. East Chattanooga. Hixson. And on the Southside, just barely above the state line near Rossville Boulevard.

Police said the largest quantity found -- 34.1 grams -- belonged to 27-year-old John Paul Jett Jr. Police found a couple of other unknown drugs in the residence on General Thomas Boulevard, according to the arrest report.

In each of the warrants, Molly was just one of several drugs sold by the suspected dealers. The most common street drugs remain cocaine and marijuana.

Jett was also found with nearly 318 grams of marijuana and nearly 129 grams of Xanax, according to the arrest report.

When asked if Molly is the next big drug, Jett replied, "It's the next big mistake."

On Friday, Jett was replacing a door in his residence and a large window was boarded up.

"It's not worth it. You see what I have to replace," he said. His home was raided by police last month.

Jett would not comment on whether the drugs belonged to him or where they came from.

He faces charges of possession and resale. His next court date is set for Jan. 14 before Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom.

Cook said it's not uncommon for dealers to sell capsules containing a mixture of other drugs that are passed off and sold as Molly. In this area, methamphetamine is sometimes incorporated into the mixture. Users often don't really know what they're taking.

It's also unclear how much of the drug police have actually seized. It's likely that seizure numbers are actually higher, suggesting even more of a problem.

The property division at the police department does not separate pills into categories. That means if a patrol officer turns in capsules to the property officers, they are lumped in with prescription pills.

Chattanooga narcotics officers seized 24 Molly capsules and 74 grams of powder this year. It's possible more capsules were seized.

"It's unfortunate that we don't have a better compiling database because the department overall I'm sure is showing higher numbers," Cook said. "Like patrol and even crime suppression -- I'm sure they are getting some of that off the streets through traffic stops. We're not the only ones doing narcotics search warrants, either."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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