When Trinidad James released the single “All Gold Everything” in December 2012, in which the hip-hop artist exclaims “Pop a molly, I’m sweatin,’” the song rose to the Top 10 on U.S. Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs and became the anthem for young party goers across the U.S.
The realities of molly's danger, however, are not a party for local law enforcement and health officials.
The trend in mainstream music to promote the use of molly has had real-life consequences for college-age and inner-city youth in the Tampa Bay area. While molly grows in popularity in Tampa, the hidden dangers behind the non-descript white powder are starting to be uncovered.
Sgt. Rich Mills, a spokesman for the Tampa Police Department’s Narcotics Unit, said the growth in references to the drug in mainstream music has paralleled the growth in the demand for the drug.
“My personal opinion, from what I’ve heard through other law enforcement agencies and people on the streets, is that one of the main things pushing this trend is the references in rap songs and rap music, which targets young people and has caused this influx,” he said.
“Molly,” short for molecule, was originally intended to be the pure, crystalized form of MDMA or ecstasy.
The drug produces feelings of extreme euphoria and causes the body to flood the brain with serotonin, much like MAOI anti-depressants. Mills said the most popular way the drug is bought and sold is in clear gel capsules.
Ybor City, Mills said, Tampa’s hub for clubs and bars and a regular destination for many USF students, has seen a surge in the drug’s popularity.
Mills said the Tampa Fire Department doesn’t keep exact numbers, but that they have reported an increase in the number of people being pulled out of clubs for exhaustion and overdoses due to molly.
“Narcotics street officers who are down in Ybor City on a regular basis, are seeing more molly and are seizing more molly on the streets and inside the clubs,” he said. “I think everybody across the board is seeing an increase in the seizures and use of the drug.”
In the late ’90s, the purer, crystalized form of the drug became more prevalent in the rave and club scenes, but in recent years has branched out to different social circles.
“We are starting to see it in different ethnicity groups now,” Mills said. “It’s not just the younger crowd and club drug scene anymore. It’s more across the board: in the inner city, in search warrant seizures and just regular searches.”
On the USF Tampa campus, University Police Public Information Officer Lt. Charlotte Domingo, said the drug doesn’t seem to be as popular based on arrest records.
UP reports only having seen six arrests related to the drug since 2007, but Ben, a student who said he was a former molly user and dealer, who requested to be identified by first name only for this article, said the arrest records aren’t reflective of how widespread he thinks the drug’s use really is among USF students.
“It can’t reflect the problem,” he said. “The caps don’t take up any space, it doesn’t smell and it’s extremely easy to keep it to yourself. I would go as far as to say that there are dozens of people on campus with the drug or are on the drug on any given night. The odds of getting caught are slim to none.”
Ben, who began attending USF in 2012, said he sold the drug to students on campus from February to May 2013.
During that period, Ben said he sold to students from many backgrounds, and said he could see molly’s popularity was spreading to students outside of the club scene.
“I would sell to people that were already heavily into drugs, but I also sold to many people who were doing it for the first time,” he said. “These were just people that had smoked a few times at parties who you wouldn’t normally think would want to do hard drugs.”
Ben also said he spent many nights in the clubs in Ybor City where he said the buying and selling of molly has become a staple of the club experience.
“In Tampa, the scene has definitely blown up in a big way,” he said. “…even on non-event days it’s completely packed full of people buying, selling and rolling… People will just go to an event and not know the DJs or the music, but they’ll just go there because they know everyone will be doing molly and partying and that’s just what they do.”
In 2011, Miami, a city with a club scene much larger than Tampa’s, started seeing a small increase in the number of molly capsules testing positive for the adulterant methylone. By 2012, 278 of the 337 molly confiscations sent off for testing by the Miami Police Department, contained methylone.
Mills said this same trend has been seen by officers in the Tampa Narcotics Unit when they send their confiscations to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing.
“We have sent molly from here in the Tampa area to the labs for testing and it’s coming back with trace amounts of methylone, which is a chemical derived from crystal meth,” Mills said. “We’ve also found other adulterants such as ephedrine, caffeine and cocaine. We have also received reports of some capsules possibly containing heroin.”
Evan Eisenberg is the former president and founder of the student organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy .
Partnering with national harm-reduction organizations, such as the Amplify Project and DanceSafe, Eisenberg and other members from SSDP have been working toward harm-reduction at clubs and festivals around the country.
Since graduating from USF in spring 2013, Eisenberg has traveled to electronic music festivals across the U.S. where the use of molly is the most popular.
While Eisenberg said he doesn’t necessarily agree that the music is the cause for the drug’s growing popularity, he said it definitely isn’t helping harm-reduction efforts.
“It doesn’t help the people trying to hand out ear plugs and factual drug information when the artist on stage, who’s getting paid a bunch of money, is encouraging people to take a drug he or she probably doesn’t know the contents of,” Eisenberg said.
Perhaps the most effective harm-reduction tool, Eisenberg said, is the use of testing reagents to test the contents of capsules.
“At Wellness, we work on a harm-reduction model, so it’s not about ‘Hey, don’t do it.’ It’s always about, ‘If you are going to do it, you need to stay safe,’” Nick Joyce, a staff psychologist at USF’s Counseling Center, said. “If you are going to take a drug, know what it is and test it. Because these chemicals that are out there being sold as molly are the ones that are out there killing people and harming people.”
Testing reagents are as cheap as $20 and can be purchased online from national harm-reduction organizations like DanceSafe, Eisenberg said.
The reason behind this, Mills said, is simple: Profit.
“That’s what it’s always about,” he said. “You saw the same thing happen with the way dealers would cut coke. It’s all about making more money.”
Ben said the amount of money that can be made from selling capsules filled with adulterants is too hard for some people to pass up.
“From the places where these drugs are being manufactured, you can get genuine MDMA for about $30 a gram, which is already an amazing price,” he said. “Like 300 percent profit street rate. But methylone could probably be bought for dollars a gram whole sale.”
The lack of knowledge about MDMA-mimicking chemicals on the part of the new users also contributes to the money-making scheme. Ben said the reason many drug dealers decide to pass these drugs off as molly is because they know they can get away with it.
“People don’t care at this point,” he said. “Because of how big the scene is, now they are selling to people who probably can’t tell the difference and most people don’t know what’s even out there. Some of them don’t even know they could be buying adulterants like methylone, methadrone, MDPV, PMMA, I could go on and on. They just cap it up, sell it and make ridiculous amounts of money.”
Joyce has been a drug counselor at universities across the country including Purdue and the University of Michigan.
While most students don’t go to drug counseling specifically for molly, Joyce said he’s speaking with more students who say they have tried it.
“We are seeing more students who were caught drinking or had pot on them who come in and just say, ‘Yeah, molly is another one of those things that I’ve done,’” he said. “It’s still a minority of students, but we are seeing more of a rise in students having reported using it.”
For Joyce, molly is simply a rebranding of the kinds of ways he saw ecstasy marketed back when he was in high school during the ’90s. Unlike how the drug was stigmatized then, he said more students think the drug is safe to use.
“It’s come back as this ‘molly’ thing that’s not supposed to be as addictive or dangerous as ecstasy and they think it’s safe to do, but we are seeing these publicized harms again, which has people becoming concerned about its use,” he said.
While the dangers associated with frequent MDMA use have been known to psychologists and doctors for over a decade, many risks these new derivatives like methylone pose to users is relatively unstudied.
That, Joyce said, is where the biggest danger lies.
“There is an inherent danger associated when you buy a powdered anything,” he said. “If you are getting pure MDMA, then the risks are much lower, but a lot of the overdoses by people are those who thought they were taking MDMA, but were really taking something else.”