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New fatal imported drug hits nightclubs

Orlando Sentinel
by Henry Pierson Curtis
Sept 28, 2000

Able to poach a victim's brain like an egg, a new drug being sold on Central Florida's nightclub scene has set off a statewide alert after being tied to six deaths.

The pills burn out users' central nervous systems by raising body temperatures to as high as 108 degrees, Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner Dr. Shashi Gore said Wednesday.

Costing as little as $10, each dose is white, slightly larger than an aspirin and is stamped with three diamonds in the shape of a Mitsubishi logo. The pills, which have no connection with the Japanese company, apparently came from illegal labs in Germany and Denmark. They appeared in the United States last spring and caused the deaths of three young people in the Chicago area, according to drug agents.

Paramethoxyamphetamine, or PMA, is the latest in a series of illegal drug-related health threats in greater Orlando that began with crack cocaine in the mid-1980s and continued with heroin, Ecstasy and GHB in the 1990s. The so-called Mitsubishi pills contain a mixture of Ecstasy and PMA, said Gore and drug agents.

Authorities do not know when the pills first arrived in Central Florida, but the drug was first detected in July after Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories in Melbourne ran comprehensive drug screens on a suspected Ecstasy overdose victim. On Tuesday, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning that routine drug screens would not detect PMA.

The Wuesthoff tests showed that five of seven Ecstasy-related deaths in Orange and Osceola counties this year involved PMA. Two of those five deaths came during a triple overdose Labor Day weekend. Two young men died after being ejected from a Lee Road nightclub. The third survived.

"I only go to the press when it's really important," Gore said in announcing the health threat. "I feel so bad seeing these young people dying."

In addition to those five victims, a woman who died in Lake County may have bought the drug in Orlando. PMA in her blood was found by a laboratory in Gainesville.

A Wuesthoff supervisor said there have been no other confirmed PMA deaths in Florida.

A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office said recent overdoses likely would be reviewed. The decision was made Tuesday after the state Medical Examiners Commission issued a statewide alert on the deaths in Orland.

Nothing about the taste or initial euphoria from taking a diamond pill alerts drug users they may be on the verge of a fatal experience. According to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, PMA shares hallucinogenic qualities with mescaline and Ecstasy. The first sign of impending death is a soaring temperature.

Stupor can follow within an hour. By then, widespread bleeding of the brain and internal organs may have begun. Prompt emergency medical care does not guarantee survival, according to records of cases in Britain, Canada and a series of 10 deaths in Australia.

In two Orlando deaths, drug agents said, the victims were found twisting and flipping on the floor like fish out of water.

All of the local PMA victims consumed more than one drug, which is typical of overdose victims associated with the nightclub and rave scene, Gore said. The other drugs included alcohol, Valium and marijuana. It's possible the combinations and taking more than one dose contributed to their deaths, he said.

There is no known safe dose for PMA.[erowid note- this is untrue.]

Heroin remains the primary killer of Central Florida drug users. There have been 20 confirmed heroin-related deaths this year in Orange and Osceola counties. Thirty-two more overdose deaths include at least two from GHB, five from PMA mixed with Ecstasy and two from Ecstasy, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.