Study: Ecstasy Cheap in Parts of the Carolinas

Dec 6, 2016

Credit MIchigan State University

Buying Ecstasy is a bargain in some parts of North Carolina. A recent study from Michigan State University stated the average rate for it is less than $4-per-tablet in Raleigh and Greensboro– among the cheapest rates in the United States. Because the rates are low there, the market could expand eastward and into ENC.   Chris Thomas has more.

Prof. Siddharth (Sid-harth) Chandra (Chin-Dra) of Michigan State University worked with the National Drug Intelligence Center on a series of studies tracking the average price for several narcotics, including Ecstasy, a synthetic drug that heightens the senses and causes a short-term surge of dopamine and serotonin levels.

According to his findings, the average wholesale price of the drug is $3.50 in two North Carolina towns and $4.75 in South Carolina’s capital, Columbia.  

“And that suggested to us that the Carolinas may be a hot spot for the trafficking of Ecstasy as well.”

Chandra, an economist, paired probable city-to-city links for Ecstasy manufacturing and marketing. His 3-year-long study found areas that produce ecstasy tend to have lower prices. Other hot spots are near the Canadian and Mexican border, where Ecstasy also sold at a lower cost.

Credit Wikimedia Commons / National Institute on Drug Abuse

“The drug is very cheap, it’s unusually cheap there compared to what it costs in surrounding states or surrounding cities.”

Chandra’s study focused primarily on Ecstasy’s prices across the nation but believes location is still a primary factor.  

“The Carolinas are probably a point of origin in the United States for the drug and this raises the question about whether it’s a landing point for the drug coming in from overseas or – and we know Ecstasy is a synthetic drug – whether it’s being manufactured in that region.”

Either is possible. A key ingredient to most varieties of Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is oil from sassafras plants, native to North Carolina, or a replication of it.

“We do know that certain countries in Western Europe…are major exporters of this drug into the United States. So it could very well be that these are shipments of the drug are coming into the Carolinas – so the first cities where we see them selling at a very low price are...the ones maybe tens or hundreds of miles away from those port locations.”

It's coming into areas like Raleigh and Greensboro but down the road, those markets may become saturated and traffickers may expand into the region as a potential market.

If that happened, it wouldn’t be the first the region had a strong MDMA presence. Local law enforcement officials say it had its hay day in the early 2000s in its ubiquitous pill form.  

“It was pretty popular up (until) probably about 2009-2010.”

Major Chris Thomas of the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office (not to be confused with this reporter.)

“Well it’s probably dropped up substantially since that timeframe. We don’t get it (nearly) as much as we used to. Now we probably get the powder form which is referred to as Molly more often than we do the Ecstasy.”

Ecstasy fetches $25-per-pill in eastern North Carolina, according to Maj. Thomas. Higher prices may indicate scarcity and a wide gap between the region and the apparent manufacturing hubs in the Triangle and Triad.

Molly, a more potent MDMA substance, demands a higher price and it’s purchased by the gram.

“It usually runs between $80-$100 grams.”

Eastern North Carolina’s struggles with methamphetamine and heroin are rampant, well known, and much higher on priority lists for local vice squads. Ecstasy is more prevalent in larger cities where underground music and arts scenes thrive.  

Isaac, a Swansboro native, knows that personally.

“Once I moved to Atlanta…(I) became friends with some people who recommended I do it once every other week just to preserve my chemical balance...once every other week slowly turned into once a week and then I had to stop because it was getting to be too much.”  

But Isaac got his first taste of MDMA while living in the region – on a camping trip with friends soon after high school. He said there wasn’t much else to do in the small community on the Onslow-Carteret County Line.

“Well there’s sports, I guess, and then drinking [laughter]. I mean, being so close to the beach one of the major pastimes was to go on the beach and sit under the sun all day and have a few beers and kind of relax. But to do that every single day…”

Isaac says he hasn’t taken Ecstasy in about 4 years – in part because the habit became too expensive. He said he spent $20-per-week on Ecstasy at $10 a tab.

“Plus I moved back and the availability was much lower in Swansboro.”

Data from Prof. Chandra didn’t include more rural areas of the nation, like eastern North Carolina. But he warns economically depressed areas are more vulnerable to drug trafficking.  

“For some people unfortunately, the production of an illegal drug becomes the economic opportunity, right? And that’s one reason why sometimes we find meth labs – and meth is a substance that’s closely related to ecstasy – we find them in areas that are economically depressed.”

He believes seeding economic growth and expanding opportunities to economically disadvantaged areas are an effective way to keep black markets closed.

I’m Chris Thomas.