“It could be,” Howard responded. “But bath salts come in crystals too, though they’re differently shaped.” He pulled a bag of mephedrone out of his trouser pocket to make a visual comparison.
For the second molly test, Howard was using a 12-panel drug-screening kit that detects twice as many substances as the kit my wife used to test the first sample, including barbiturates and the former animal anesthetic PCP. Howard put about half the contents of the capsule into a cup of water and then dunked the panel. We waited for the test kit to absorb the solution.
“I expect it to be positive for methamphetamine based on the way it looks,” he said, “and maybe have a little MDMA in it. Sometimes they put 10 percent of MDMA in to fool people into thinking it’s molly. Remember, methamphetamine is cheaper than MDMA.”
A minute passed and Howard looked at the test. “Yep, it’s exactly what I thought,” he said. “So it’s negative for opiates, cocaine, PCP, barbiturates and oxycodone. Some people throw some opiates in to mellow out the mix. This is positive for methamphetamine and MDMA.”
The overwhelming bulk of the capsule, Howard concluded, was clearly meth.
“You won’t believe what they put in molly,” he said. “Sometimes pain pills, blood pressure pills, caffeine, aspirin, all in a big capsule.”
My wife and I continued the hunt for pure molly. It was becoming obvious we would have to venture beyond south Florida. While there is some domestic molly production, most of the MDMA consumed in the United States comes from drug gangs in Canada. The amount of MDMA seized at the Canadian border increased ninefold from 2003 to 2007.
We decided New York would be a better choice. One of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in America was about to take place in the city. Tens of thousands of fans, many of them hungry for molly, were set to descend on Randall’s Island for a three-day concert called Electric Zoo, featuring some of the best-known DJs in the world. If we couldn’t find pure molly there, we weren’t going to find it anywhere.
By 11 in the morning on Saturday, August 31, the second day of Electric Zoo, the crowds were already lining up to get into the stadium, a dumpy venue on a lump of land in the middle of the polluted East River. Security was tight. Bags were checked not once but twice. Altoids tins and cigarette packets drew extra scrutiny. IDs were scanned to make sure they weren’t forgeries. The pat-downs were practically indecent.
As the crowd waited patiently to get into the concert, staffers handed out pamphlets with the following warning: “Electric Zoo strongly advocates against the use of drugs. Avoiding drug use is the only way to completely avoid drug-related risks. You don’t need drugs anyway when world-class music is swirling all around you.”
There was a reason for all the paranoia. The previous night, 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ had collapsed at Electric Zoo. He later died at Harlem Hospital Center. The cause of death had yet to be established, but police suspected Russ had taken what he believed to be molly. The victim, a beefy guy who had recently graduated from Syracuse University, traveled to the festival with his fraternity brothers and fell ill as the last sets of the day wrapped up. Russ’s death was the first fatality that weekend. But it wouldn’t be the last.
As the day progressed, the signs of drug use increased. Glow sticks and drug wrappers littered the field. Three friends who appeared to be in their early 20s sat down at a picnic table. One with pasty skin and a blond goatee briefly scanned his surroundings before taking from his backpack a ziplock bag that contained capsules filled with white powder. He took a capsule out, split it and poured the contents into his water bottle. He shook the bottle vigorously and took a sip. He winced and gagged. “This tastes like ass,” he said. “But I’ll be tripping in no time.”
Nearby, close to the entrance to the show, a young Asian man was lying facedown on the grass, humping the ground. He turned his head to one side and vomited. By this point Electric Zoo’s staffers were spraying the crowd with water hoses. Overheating is a major risk factor for molly users.
Around 8:45 in the evening, tragedy struck again. Olivia Rotondo, a 20-year-old University of New Hampshire student, fell ill and was rushed to Metropolitan Hospital Center, where she died shortly after arriving. According to the New York Post, the young woman told a medic before she collapsed that she had taken six hits of molly. Just hours before her death, Rotondo reportedly tweeted, “The amount of traveling I’ve done today is unreal. Just get me to the damn zoo.”
Citing “serious health risks” to concertgoers, the organizers and the city decided to cancel the final day of Electric Zoo. The event’s Facebook page was flooded with angry customers complaining about the cancellation. Typical was this comment: “Honestly, I do not even feel for the people who died. This is fucking stupid. I paid so much money to go to this fucking festival. Just cuz a couple people are fucking dumb you ruin it for 10s of thousands! Fuck you Zoo!”
Eleven days later, the medical examiner released the toxicology report. Russ died after taking the synthetic cathinone methylone combined with MDMA. Surprisingly, Rotondo died after consuming pure MDMA. Hyperthermia played a role in both deaths. Cathinones and MDMA cause the body’s temperature to rise and can lead to organ failure, as was the case here.
Unlike raves in the past, large-scale festivals such as Electric Zoo, Ultra Music Festival and Electric Daisy Carnival refuse to allow organizations such as Dance-Safe to test molly on-site because organizers fear they will be accused of condoning drug use. Maybe if they had, Jeffrey Russ would be alive today.
MOLLY TEST NUMBER THREE
As it turned out, the drug dealer we’d arranged to purchase molly from didn’t show up at Electric Zoo, because he couldn’t get hold of his supply in time. We caught up with him the next evening. The guy has been dealing in New York since the days of the notorious Limelight nightclub and had a good reputation for selling quality product. He assured my wife this was some of the best molly money could buy.
We were hopeful we’d finally found the genuine article. But the contents of this capsule were shocking. It tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and some form of opiate. That’s three stimulants piled on top of one another with what was probably an oxycodone chaser. If that’s what is in molly in New York, no wonder kids are dropping dead.
A friend consumed that molly and reported back the next day: “Well, it worked. Just not in the way molly is supposed to work. There was some molly there, but it felt like tripping on heroin.”
Despite the two fatalities at Electric Zoo, the big electronic music festival will probably go on next year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly defended the organizers and said they had done everything in their power to protect the concertgoers. At this festival and others, the search for real molly will continue unabated. People will always hunt for that high and take chances to find it. As Drugs 2.0 author Mike Power says, “Unity, euphoria and sex will never go out of style.”
The names of the drug dealers and most of the users in this story have been changed to protect their identities.