Five B.C. deaths linked to lethal chemical PMMA
Five British Columbians have died from ecstasy laced with the lethal chemical PMMA since last August, B.C's chief coroner announced today, after a review of the province's 18 most recent ecstasy-related deaths.
Lisa Lapointe said the three males and two females -- ranging in age from 14 to 37 -- have died from taking MDMA pills laced with the same chemical linked to a spate of recent deaths in the Calgary area.
"PMMA is a rare drug, it's something that we haven't seen before in relation to ecstasy-related deaths," Lapointe said during a media conference call this afternoon. "As with MDMA there's no known safe dose of PMMA.
"We also had in the same period 13 other ecstasy-related deaths."
In four of the five PMMA-related deaths one or more other substances such as alcohol, marijuana and cocaine were present, said Lapointe, who added these substances are also found in most ecstasy-related deaths.
PMMA ( para-Methoxymethamphetamine) is about five times more toxic than MDMA or pure ecstasy. Though it is much more toxic than MDMA, PMMA has a slower and milder onset of its effects.
"[Users] start taking more pills because they think they got lower doses and they end up with much more significant overdoses," B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall confirmed in another conference call with media Thursday afternoon.
He noted [PMMA] also "significantly interferes" with the brain, which can cause the user's body temperature to rise.
"Once you get to 104, 105 degrees, you can get irreversible brain and organ damage," Kendall said.
PMMA is now being added to the list of chemicals that a coroner screens for when conducting a toxicology report, but it would cost too much money to review ecstasy-related deaths for PMMA from years ago, Lapointe said.
"We've always known that ecstasy tablets -- while they do include MDMA -- could include a variety of things," Lapointe said.
In 2006 seven British Columbians had ecstasy-related deaths. That number jumped to 12 in 2007, then 23 in 2008, 21 in 2009 and 20 in 2010, according to Lapointe.
Several police agencies have tablets that were voluntarily forwarded to them recently and may contain the lethal MDMA/PMMA mix. However, authorities don't want to post pictures of the pills because it may give users the impression that those pills are risky while the others are safe Lapointe said.
Tyler Miller, 20, of Abbotsford died from a PMMA-laced pill on Nov. 27, 2011 his father Russ Miller confirmed.
"He had all the info from us; he knew all the facts," said Miller told The Sun Thursday. "But it's the adage at that age: Nothing touches you. You're bulletproof."
Miller and his wife, Laurie Mossey, a youth drug and addictions worker, had previously found an open Facebook page where Tyler and his friends were talking about the drug. They made him attend drug counselling sessions for six weeks and when he passed a random drug test some months later they thought he had put it behind him.
"Don't trust everything you're told," Miller cautioned parents. "You want to double-check and then triple-check. Being a little nosy but having them there for the rest of your life? I'd rather be a little nosy.
"Even that's not going to guarantee a sure thing, but at that point you've done what you can."
Three other people in the Lower Mainland have died from reactions to ecstasy in recent weeks: a 17-year-old girl from Abbotsford; a 22-year-old Vancouver woman who took the drug at a house party; and another 22-year-old Vancouver woman who was hospitalized after taking ecstasy on New Year's Eve and died last Friday.
As well, a 24-year-old Abbotsford woman who took the drug Jan. 2 remains in critical condition.
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