ST. PETERSBURG - Ecstasy became the rave scene's drug of choice a decade or two ago, and now a close cousin named Molly is showing up everywhere, in part fueled by its newfound popularity in the hip-hop culture.
In Tampa, firefighters are seeing a slight increase in Molly overdoses at the clubs in Ybor City, said Sgt. Rich Mills, who is in charge of a narcotics squad for the Tampa Police Department.
Molly, which is short for molecule - because it is MDMA in its purest form - is also turning up in searches at crack houses.
In Pinellas County, narcotics detectives last month discovered a Clearwater man who had been sent nearly a dozen parcels of Molly from China. The Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in that investigation.
So far this year, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has made 14 arrests involving the drug, compared with one last year and none in 2011, said Capt. Mark Baughman, who's in charge of the sheriff's narcotics division.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in it," Baughman said.
Molly, which gives people a sense of euphoria, has been around for years but became hip-hop's go-to pharmaceutical in 2012 as rappers such as Rick Ross and Trinidad James worked it into their lyrics. James' "All Gold Everything" was a watershed with its "Popped a Molly, I'm sweatin' " line. Suddenly, everyone wanted some.
"The impact that that song had is what really turned things around for it," said Devron Kelly, or "Dev," one of the hosts of the "Hip-Hop Flavors" radio show on WMNF.
"Basically, it's just a new drug, so you're going to have kids experimenting with whatever they hear the latest rappers talking about."
In Pinellas, detectives are finding all kinds of buyers: white, black, men and women.
"It crosses all demographics," Baughman said.
Although Molly is often pitched as MDMA in its purest form, that's not always the case, Mills said. Sometimes, after detectives send confiscated samples to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory, the results show other drugs mixed with it.
"It's really dangerous," Mills said. "They may have built a tolerance up to the MDMA or the Molly or ecstasy, but they've never taken methamphetamine before. They've never taken cocaine before."
The misrepresented product can shock the system.
In the past, users sometimes snorted Molly, but people increasingly are putting it into gel caps and swallowing it, Mills said. Police on both sides of Tampa Bay have encountered it being sold that way.
With demand starting to drive up the price of Molly, dealers sometimes are tampering with the pure MDMA, cutting it with other things before selling it, Baughman said.
"It looks like the actual drug, so it doesn't make the buyer suspicious," he said.
As law enforcement adapts to Molly's growing popularity, a backlash seems to be building in the hip-hop community,
In April, Ross issued a public apology after sparking an outcry about a song that seemed to condone using Molly as a date-rape drug. The controversy forced Reebok to cut ties with the rapper. Other rappers - most notably Kendrick Lamar - have been speaking out against Molly, with Lamar even staging a mock funeral for the drug in a recent video that ends with the message "Death to Molly."
"I think the biggest difference with Molly as opposed to previous drugs in relation to hip-hop is that in past generations people would rap about selling drugs, and now they're rapping about doing them," said Mike Barnes, or "Mic Deluxx," another host of the "Hip-Hop Flavors" show.
"With crack there was a high level of shame associated with using it. ... It wasn't really a chic or sexy thing."