UPDATE: Lower Mainland ecstasy death linked to lethal chemical

Warnings continue about the use of illicit drugs, following release of toxicology results in one B.C. death and five in Calgary.

Abbotsford Police are continuing to warn people about the dangers of using any form of illicit drugs, in the wake of toxicology results released from one ecstasy-related death in the Lower Mainland and five in Calgary.

Provincial health officer Perry Kendall confirmed in a media teleconference today (Thursday) that one of the four recent B.C. deaths – two in Abbotsford and two in Vancouver – occurred because the drug was tainted by a lethal chemical known as paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA).

He did not indicate which one of the individuals he was referring to.

Kendall’s comments come after toxicology results released Wednesday from the five Calgary deaths showed that PMMA was present in all the victims. Kendall said 16 ecstasy-related deaths in B.C. from 2011 will also be examined to see if the chemical was present.

According to a press release issued Wednesday by Calgary Police Service,  PMMA is thought to be a less expensive compound used to make a drug similar in appearance – and sold on the street as – ecstasy.

Ecstasy (MDMA) and meth were also found in the Calgary toxicology results.

Dr. Mark Yarema, medical director of the Poison and Drug Information Service, said PMMA is considered more toxic than MDMA, with a higher incidence of seizures and elevated body temperature.

The effects can take longer and the results can initially be milder, he said.

“This is dangerous as it may result in users ingesting several tablets to achieve a desired effect, with potentially fatal consequences.”

Police in both Calgary and Abbotsford are using the results as a message that there is no guarantee of what people are getting when they use an illegal drug.

“To me, it’s just a risk that people shouldn’t be taking right now – or at any time … You don’t know what’s in it (the drug) and you don’t know what it will do to your body,” said Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald.

Staff Sgt. Mike Bossley of Calgary Police Service’s drug unit said these deaths are a “prime example” of what can happen when people gamble with drugs.

“You never know what is in your drug: yesterday it was MDMA, today’s it PMMA and tomorrow it could be something else. There is no safe street drug, and no safe dose of a street drug.”

There have been three recent ecstasy-related incidents involving Abbotsford people.

Tyler Miller, 20, died Nov. 27 after taking ecstasy recreationally with friends. Cheryl McCormack, 17, passed away on Dec. 22 – three days after ingesting ecstasy at a sleepover with friends who were using the drug to aid in weight loss.

And a 24-year-old woman is recovering in intensive care after taking several ecstasy pills on New Year’s Eve.

Two women from Vancouver, both 22, have also died in recent weeks.