It's promoted to the young, club-going crowd as the hip and happy "love drug" with the cute name - Molly.
Seemingly harmless, Molly can pack a lethal punch, as seen in the last 12 days, when two female New Hampshire university students apparently overdosed on it at nightclubs in Boston and New York City.
"Young people believe it is not harmful," said Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New England division in Boston.
Molly is the purest form of MDMA - the same drug used in Ecstasy - and is either sold as a crystallized white powder that is snorted or in capsules that are swallowed, said detective Sgt. Brian K. LeVeille, who oversees undercover drug operations for the Manchester Police Department's Special Investigations Unit. It sells for $80 to $100 a gram, he said.
While promoted as the "fun drug" because it creates sensations of euphoria, reduced inhibition, sexual arousal and intimacy, a single dose can kill, drug investigators said.
That's because dealers frequently mix Molly with other agents - such as methamphetamine, ketamine, even rat poison - often to boost their profits, they said.
"This isn't made by master chemists. This stuff is made by drug dealers,'' said Pettigrew. "What makes it so harmful is it's basically a bunch of chemicals mixed together and you don't know what's in it."
The drug also causes the body's internal temperature to rise to dangerously high levels, especially when taken in high doses or during exertion, such as dancing, LeVeille explained. That's why users often take breaks and drink a lot of water or Gatorade, he said. Mixing MDMA with alcohol increases dehydration.
"You pretty much know an MDMA overdose. Usually, the person dies as a result of a body temperature of upwards of 108, 109 and 110 degrees," LeVeille said.
"It basically cooks you from the inside out," he added.
The drug has soared in the public eye since Plymouth State University sophomore Brittany Flannigan, 19, of Derry died from an apparent overdose at the House of Blues in Boston Aug. 28. Three days later, University of New Hampshire junior Olivia Rotondo, 20, of North Providence, R.I., died at a New York concert, also from an apparent overdose.
Worried about the club drug's potential dangers, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas met with Verizon Wireless Arena general manager Tim Bechert last week and expressed his concerns about Barstool Blackout Tour's electronic music performance scheduled for Sept. 28. The show was canceled Tuesday.
Media attention given Molly overdose deaths - as tragic as they are - could skew perceptions of Molly's foothold in New Hampshire and distract attention from the leading illicit drugs that claim scores of lives a year, law enforcers warn.
Police chiefs, local and state drug investigators generally agree Molly is on the streets - particularly among youth in nightclubs - but its use pales in comparison with heroin, cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana. And it accounts for few arrests compared with these other drugs, they said.
"Is there Molly here in Portsmouth? Most certainly there is. There is also a lot of heroin. There is a lot of heroin out there. People die from overdoses of heroin every day," said Portsmouth police Capt. Michael Schwartz, who oversees the Detective Division.
The number of people dying from drug overdoses in New Hampshire has tripled, from the 50 reported in 1995, when the state first began tracking these deaths, to an estimated 160 last year, said Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jennie V. Duval.
In none of these deaths was MDMA - either as Molly or Ecstasy - solely to blame, Duval said. MDMA was identified as one of several drugs found in the bodies of five people who died between 2002 and 2011, she said.
In comparison, heroin has been one of the leading killers of drug users for years, Duval said. Heroin, or other opiates, were the cause of 46 of the 160 overdose deaths in 2012, she said. She expects it will top the list again in 2013.
But heroin deaths are largely ignored, partly because addicts tend to be homeless and unemployed and are often committing many of the burglaries plaguing the state, said Lt. John A. Encarnacao, commander of the New Hampshire State Police Narcotics and Investigations Unit.
"When you have a college-aged person who seems do be doing OK ... they seem to have a job and they decide to ingest something ... that kills them ... people relate to that,'' said Encarnacao. "They say, 'Oh, my God. This is something that is terrible.' They are right. It is terrible. But it is nothing worse than the heroin epidemic we have with all these junkies that are killing themselves.".
Law enforcers agree, however, that the apparent Molly overdoses offer strong warnings to high school- and college-age youths and their parents.
"This is the perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about Molly - that it is not harmless, that it can kill you," Pettigrew said.
Molly reportedly gets its name from "molecule" because it is promoted as the purest form of MDMA with no additives, such as methamphetamine or ketamine, Pettigrew said.
The fallacy, he said, is that "since it's the 'purest,' you don't have to worry about using it since it's not contaminated with those other substances. Of course, the reality is you don't know what you're getting, what is in it ... and one dose can kill you."
For more information, go to dea.gov or justthinktwice.com.