The ecstasy capital of the world

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The latest report by the United Nations international narcotics control board (INCB) has lashed out at several countries for being soft on narcotics, but the Netherlands has again been singled out as the "bad boy" of the European class when it comes to the production and trade of ecstasy.

The Dutch police love to point to the impressive numbers of drugs gangs they "dismantle" each year, but this does not alter the fact that the Netherlands continues to be one of the world's major sites for the production and trafficking of Ecstasy.

What is ecstasy?

Perhaps traumatised by being rather unflatteringly christened Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) when invented around 1912, the drug has adopted many pseudonyms since, including XTC, ecstasy, E and the love drug in its search for acceptance.

The little pill, with its stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, hit the big time when the "rave" clubbing craze started in the mid 1980s.

Its advocates say ecstasy produces positive feelings, empathy for others, extreme relaxation and eliminates anxiety.

It also suppresses the need to eat, drink or sleep, allowing users to dance all night.

Opponents say it can lead to exhaustion and dehydration, brain damage and death. Indeed, some users have "drowned" themselves by drinking too much water while trying to compensate for the dehydrating effect of dancing frantically for hours.

The drug is illegal.

The drug party that doesn't end

The Dutch government is working hard to dispel the image that it tolerates hard drugs. But the fact remains that international drug agencies continually single the Netherlands out as one of the main producers of ecstasy.

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reiterated this point in its report published on 26 February 2003.

The INCB said that young people in Britain, Ireland and Spain are the biggest users of the Dutch export, but the Netherlands has worked with other countries to combat the surge.

The UN organisation noted that Western European countries, Australia, Canada and the US launched an international operation against the ecstasy trade in March 2002 and this led to the seizure of 335,000 ecstasy pills.

This is a drop in the ocean. The INCB also said that ecstasy was also being used extensively in the US and parts of Asia and that the former Dutch colonies, the Dutch Antilles, Aruba and Suriname, were the most important transit countries.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the US asserts that some 2 million Dutch ecstasy pills are smuggled into the US every week and that Dutch-produced ecstasy is the drug of choice for revellers in dance clubs all across Europe and the US.

The Dutch government knows the drill though. After the INCB highlighted the prominence of the Netherlands in the drugs trade in 2000, the Dutch authorities hurriedly pointed out that in one month alone (March 2002), the police broke up two major ecstasy gangs.

One was in the north of the Netherlands where three men, including two company directors, were arrested and about 100,000 ecstasy pills seized. Investigators also found a truck containing thousands of litres of chemical ingredients, enough to make a few million more ecstasy pills.

About a week later, Rotterdam detectives arrested nine people allegedly involved in another ring smuggling ecstasy to the US. About 18kg of ecstasy was seized.

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