Ecstasy additive being blamed for overdose deaths in Florida
By Compiled from Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000
The pills are white and slightly larger than an aspirin, and are stamped with three diamonds in the shape of a Mitsubishi logo.
Some of the pills are Ecstasy. But some of the pills also contain an incredibly dangerous new drug that can cook a user's brain like a 10-minute egg. It can burn out a person's central nervous system by raising body temperatures as high as 108 degrees.
The new rave drug -- paramethoxyamphetamine, or PMA -- is being sold on Orlando's nightclub scene.
Authorities haven't seen the drug in the Tampa Bay area, but PMA has been tied to six recent deaths in Central Florida and has set off a statewide alert.
In Orlando, the so-called "Mitsubishi pills" contain a mixture of Ecstasy and PMA, said Dr. Shashi Gore, the medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties.
Costing as little as $10, each dose is stamped with a Mitsubishi logo, although the pills have no connection to the Japanese company.
Ecstasy tablets stamped with the Mitsubishi logo -- but without PMA -- have been appearing in the Tampa Bay area for the past couple of years or so, said Hillsborough County sheriff's Lt. Paul Davis.
"When you make them on your own press, you can stamp whatever you want on them, like the Nike swoosh or those little Mitsubishi prongs," Davis said. "All the "Mitsubishis' we've found so far have been Ecstasy."
Hillsborough authorities are looking for PMA at area clubs, but they hope it won't show up.
The PMA pills 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 federal drug agents.
Authorities don't know when the pills arrived in 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. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration says routine drug screens won't detect PMA.
The Wuesthoff tests eventually showed that five of seven Ecstasy-related deaths in Orange and Osceola counties this year involved PMA.
Two of those deaths occurred during a triple overdose on Labor Day weekend. Two young men died after being ejected from a nightclub, and the third survived.
A sixth victim, a woman who died in Lake County, might have bought the drug in neighboring Orlando. A Wuesthoff supervisor said no other PMA deaths have been confirmed in Florida.
"We haven't seen any of it here," said Wayne Duer, who runs the toxicology lab at the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office. "We test for it, but we have not detected it."
The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office has found no PMA overdoses either.
Pasco County authorities are still investigating the drug overdose of Eric Przybyszewski, 17, who died Sept. 9 after reportedly taking Ecstasy at a party.
Pasco investigators are waiting for the results of toxicology tests to determine what killed Przybyszewski. Nothing about the taste or initial euphoria from taking a PMA pill alerts drug users that they may be on the verge of dying.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 has begun. Prompt emergency medical care does not guarantee survival. In two Orlando deaths, drug agents said, the victims were found twisting and flipping on the floor.
All of the PMA victims in Central Florida 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.
- Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report, and information from the Orlando Sentinel was used.
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