KELOWNA, B.C. – Ecstasy dealers and producers are playing a deadly game with users, cutting the party drug with potentially lethal chemicals to meet rising demand at home and internationally.
The British Columbia Coroner’s Office says 16 people died here last year and another three so far in January. In neighboring Alberta, examiners linked six deaths there to contaminated ecstasy, most recently a 43-year-old Calgary man. What troubles police is the man died in July, meaning the tainted supply may have been on the streets for months.
Toxicology reports found paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) in the man’s system.
"What happened was the medical examiner's office searched their database for other cases that involved PMMA and that identified the July case," Julie Siddons, an Alberta Justice representative, told the Calgary Herald on Friday.
"They did not rerun any of the toxicology tests. PMMA is actually among the toxins that are screened for in Alberta. That particular case was an isolated case and we didn't see it again for four months."
Tests are underway related to two more deaths in that province.
Producers use PMMA because it’s cheaper and creates similar effects to ecstasy’s main ingredient, MDMA; however, PMMA can be five times more toxic and require more time to work, misleading users into taking more. It can also cause seizures and elevated body temperature, both of which can kill.
Canada is well known for its ecstasy, and the Vancouver area is at the center of production.
"We've had reports of it being exported to the Philippines, Japan. We are a source supply for this drug," RCMP Sgt. Scott Rintoul told CTV News. "Today, ecstasy's a stock – it's a stock to invest in. It's a hot commodity right now, and has been for the last 12, 13 years."
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One dealer said demand is so high that producers will use drugs such as PMMA, and then give it free to addicts to test.
"They try the drug and come back and tell us how it is," said the dealer, whose identity CTV protected. "If we don't hear back from them and they're gone, hey, probably not good stuff."
The dealer, who CTV called Jason, said he’s driven from Vancouver to Calgary with 50,000 pills in his car. He said nearby Seattle and Edmonton are also big markets, and that dealers will go to any length to evade police.
"There's many ways: hidden compartments in a car, or you could put drugs in, say, a can. ... You put it in and you seal the can, and then it's labelled tuna or fish or whatever," he said.
"Now they have better ways of hiding it in cars, but hiding in cars is pretty much old school. Barely anyone does it," he said. "They fly it – they have submarines that take it for bigger drugs."