April 3, 2012 6:34 pm

$50 kit claims to test for PMMA in ecstasy


A Seattle company says it has a test that can detect tainted ecstasy pills.

The news comes after a series of recent deaths in western Canada linked to the drug being mixed with a chemical cocktail known as paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA).

But ecstasy without PMMA – doesn’t make the party drug safer.  Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, stresses, “Every time you take ecstasy, you’re lucky you survive.”

“Every time you take it, you’re taking a chance.”

Ecstasy is synonymous with the rave scene. In Seattle, PMMA hasn’t surfaced yet.

Nathan Messer wants to keep it that way. He sets up mini-labs outside venues to test ecstasy pills. His kit puts pills through a series of tests using combinations of chemicals – such as sulphuric acid, formeldahyde and salenious acid – to determine if PMMA is present.

“It’s certainly encouraging people to avoid taking drugs that they don’t know about, right? It’s teaching people to avoid taking things they don’t know the effects of. And that’s a good thing,” Messer says.

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The kits, which sell for $50, are being directly aimed at the Canadian market. While they fall into a grey area of U.S. drug paraphernalia laws, the kits are legal in Canada.

But Cst. Ian MacDonald with the Abbotsford Police Department in British Columbia says these kits provide a false sense of security. “So simply that a pill tests to be positive or negative for some substance that we think is the Bogeyman substance, will not necessarily keep (ecstasy users) alive.”

The kits do warn they don’t detect a pill’s purity or strength, nor can they determine whether the substance is safe.

In other words, as Lapointe points out, the test may find one thing, but not detect the substance that actually affects you.

Shawna McCormack lost her sister Cheryl to an ecstasy overdose in December 2011.  Cheryl, who was 17, died after taking the drug at a sleepover in Abbotsford, B.C.

McCormack thinks the kit sends the wrong message. “It’s promoting (ecstasy use).”

Messer disagrees. “I strongly doubt that it’s encouraging more drug use…because it’s already happening a whole lot.”

Kit or no kit, MacDonald warns that people are still putting themselves at risk with these drugs. “We know at the end of the day, that whatever they take in terms of this street drug, it’s not going to be good for them.”

“It may get them high and not kill them, but it’s not going to be good for them.”

Messer adds, “If you’re taking ecstasy, you know the risks.”

In British Columbia last year, 16 people died after consuming ecstasy. Six of those cases involved PMMA. That same deadly component was found in seven out of 12 ecstasy-related deaths in Alberta.

With files from Global National’s Robin Gill 

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