When Clarkstown Police Officer Mark Robinson began teaching fifth-graders about the dangers of drugs 13 years ago, he spoke of the three gateway substances: tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
Now Robinson is explaining to his 10-year-old students what "Molly" is.
"You take your typical high school generation a decade ago -- they faced alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana," Robinson said. "You take the same, typical high school kid today -- what are they facing? Synthetic drugs, prescription drugs, OxyContin, Roxies."
And now Molly.
Users describe Molly as a pure form of MDMA, the amphetamine that is a component of Ecstasy, a party drug that has been around for decades. The drug, which can come either in pill or powder form, has surged in popularity in Rockland County in recent months.
Dr. Carol Slattery -- the director of Daytop Village, an adolescent drug treatment center in Blauvelt -- said she needed to reopen the center's day program in September, when the use of Molly and other synthetic drugs like K2, a legal form of fake marijuana, began to take off.
"The drug issue with kids is getting much worse here in Rockland," Slattery said. "The kids are engaging in synthetics and they're mixing them with alcohol and benzos -- activity that leads them to taking heroin and overdosing."
More than 200 children have come to the center to seek help in the past six months alone, Slattery said. There are 46 children -- as young as 13 years old -- participating in the day program at Daytop, which includes academic instruction as well as addiction and cognitive therapy. Slattery said about 90 percent of the clients are battling synthetic drug use.
"People know there's something not right with their kids, but when they drug-test them with over-the-counter kits, these drugs aren't picking up," Slattery said. "It's like they're accusing their kids, but the tests come up negative. It's hard to pick up on it before it's too late."
OVERDOSING WITH THE STARS
Robinson acknowledges that pop culture long has exerted a powerful influence on kids, which he tries to combat in his classes. He talks to kids about the drug overdose deaths of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse, among others. This past week, he said, a student mentioned rapper Lil Wayne, who was hospitalized in Los Angeles after suffering from seizures. Initial reports -- denied by the star's camp -- said that Wayne had overdosed on "sizzurp" -- a drink mix of promethazine, codeine, soda and Jolly Rancher candy.
"I didn't know there was a song 'Molly' until one of the kids brought it up," Robinson said. "So they know about this stuff. It's everywhere in pop culture."
In a profanity-laced song by hip-hop star Tyga called "Molly," rapper Wiz Khalifa sings, "Got Champagne and we pourin' it / She poppin' it and she snortin' it / My iPhone recordin' it/ If I want it, I can afford it." The song concludes with rapper Mally Mall repeating the phrase, "Put it in my drink."
"They reference Molly the way we used to reference Marlboro," Robinson said.
Students gathered near Clarkstown North High School last week said the drug is readily available in Rockland County.
"It's not as easy to get as alcohol and pot," said one junior at the school, "but within three or four phone calls, you can get it."
"People love it. I don't know why," another student chimed in. "I won't do it, because I know what it does to your brain, but a lot of people just don't care. They'd rather have fun."
A student who recently moved to Rockland County from the Bronx said boredom was a factor in the growing popularity of the drug.
"If you're at a party, there's somebody who has drugs or there's somebody who's on drugs," he said. "This is Rockland County. It's a lot freer here; it's not as busy, so a lot of kids get bored."
Robinson cautioned that parents should not assume that the suburban and semirural character of Rockland communities offers protection from drugs like Molly.
"Anything that you hear about that's going on in California, New York City or St. Louis is going on in West Nyack, in Congers, and in Pearl River, too," Robinson said.
An 11th-grader at Clarkstown North High School, Valentine Ylizerova, 16, said officers from Clarkstown police randomly come to the school to conduct drug sweeps.
"They kick everybody out of the school, and we have to stand outside," Valentine said. "You can see some students being very nervous when they're checking our lockers."
Clarkstown officials would not reveal the findings of previous school searches or their frequency. The superintendent for the Clarkstown Central School District did not return requests for comment. Chris Goldrick, head of the Rockland County Drug Task Force, said many school-related cases are dealt with internally, using a mixture of suspension from school as punishment and rehab or therapy to help battle an addiction.
"We believe in diversion units that can direct these kids in a better way," Goldrick said. "We want to get these kids cleaned up instead of locking them up."
Many times, children resort to stealing their parents' cash, credit cards or even things throughout the home to sell on the street to get money for drugs, Slattery said.
"They have very aggressive behaviors, very fidgety, highly agitated," she said. "Their sleep and eating pattens are off. They're failing in school and just become aggressive verbally and physically."
Concern about increased drug use has prompted Judge Sherri Eisenpress, who has worked in the Rockland County Family Court for two years, to joining with Daytop and Youth At Risk, a nonprofit agency in Rockland, to develop a mentoring group for young kids embroiled in drug use.
"There are a number of kids that come through with drug issues," Eisenpress said. "But there are also a number of families in drug use where the kids are affected. Once we're in court, we hope to help them, but we even more want to help them before they even get here."
PREVENTION AND SOLUTIONS
Last month, police officers in Rockland County made 144 drug arrests from traffic stops alone, a fairly typical month, Goldrick said. He suggested that the county's annual tally of some 1,500 drug busts at traffic stops is a key indicator of the prevalence of drugs in the area.
Clarkstown Police Officer Kara Donahue, who works in Clarkstown high schools as a school resource officer, said parents can't rely on programs in schools to teach their kids about drugs.
"Educate your kids, educate them about the consequences, both health-wise and legally, so that they have the information to make the right choice," said Donahue. "Because if you ignore it, it's going to creep up and get out of hand and it's going to be very difficult to control."
One mother, picking up her 14-year-old boy at a school in New City, shrugged her shoulders and laughed when asked about Molly.
"My son is only a freshman," the woman said. "I don't think we have to worry about that just yet."