Over $62 million (street value) of MDMA was seized in 2012-13.
A powerful, powdered form of ecstasy is gaining prominence in Australia as a dramatic rise in police seizures shows the party drug is coming back into fashion.
Experts fear the resurgence of MDMA use will mirror a trend in the US towards taking the drug in a powdered version, known as molly to Americans.
The amount of MDMA seized by federal police jumped by 1257 per cent in the past two years. About 11.4 kilograms were seized in 2010-11, but this soared to 154.8 kilograms in 2012-13, with a street value of more than $62 million.
MDMA detections by customs authorities at the border rose by 330 per cent, from 964 detections with a total weight of 8.76 kilograms to 4139 detections weighing 149.2 kilograms.
Pills are still by far the most popular form of MDMA among partygoers, said NSW Drugs Squad commander Nick Bingham.
However, researchers have been startled by new forms of the drug rapidly entering the market, including capsules, powder or rock crystals - which are seen by users as providing a bigger, better high.
''The quality of ecstasy pills has gone down and people are shifting away from it, so you get this phenomenon of powders being the new drug,'' said Professor Simon Lenton from the national drug research institute at Curtin University.
''In the UK, when crystals and powder emerged, researchers found that, whereas young people in the dance scene had been taking pills and wouldn't touch anything else, they were now seeing powder as the higher end form of ecstasy.''
With New Year's Eve and the festival season in full swing, Detective Superintendent Bingham warned partygoers to ''seriously consider'' the possible consequences of experimenting with drugs.
''The majority of drugs are synthetic with no quality control and what you think you are using is often not the case,'' he said.
Ecstasy use in Australia has been in decline but, for the first time in a decade, there was an increase in the number of users ranking it as their drug of choice in the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, from 27 per cent in 2011 to 33 per cent this year.
The drug reporting system also found that half of users had noted changes in the drug market in the past few months, including the emergence of powder, capsules and crystals, a form the researchers had not seen before.
Fairfax Media spoke to half a dozen users about why they had graduated from ecstasy pills to powder. Most said they believed it provided a cleaner, stronger high and that more friends were trying it.
A 23-year-old nurse from Gladesville said she and her friends came across a mate selling ''brown sugar'', or MDMA crystals. ''We then did it most weekends for about six months because it was easy to buy,'' she said.
A 26-year-old man from Melbourne said: ''I'd have caps over pills any day of the week because there's less crap in it.''
The users said pills had become unpredictable and could vary from weak products incorporating unknown substances to pills laced with acid and LSD.
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre senior lecturer Lucy Burns said there was a concern people who would otherwise just have taken pills now saw powder as normal drug use and they could then potentially go on to dabble in other powders, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
What is Molly?
- MDMA is 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a pure form of an ingredient typically found in ecstasy pills.
- It comes as a powder and in Sydney, it is referred to as caps, MDMA or brown sugar.
- A capsule of about 0.1grams is sold for about $30 to $40.