CALGARY — Alberta health experts will be going into classrooms and using Twitter to warn about a deadly drug similar to ecstasy that has been linked to a growing number of deaths in Western Canada.
Police say warning people about PMMA — known as “Dr. Death” on the street — is a challenge because it looks the same as ecstasy, a popular but illegal recreational drug. Police believe the ecstasy-like drug is linked to eight deaths in southern Alberta and five in British Columbia over the last six months.
Investigators are trying to find the source of the drugs, but haven’t been successful.
Alberta Health Services officials, along with police officers, are to talk to students at an elementary-junior high school in Calgary later this month, with presentations at other schools to follow.
“Our message is these drugs kill,” Dr. Mark Yarema, a poison and drug expert with the health agency, said Wednesday.
“PMMA is far more toxic than MDMA, which is referred to as ecstasy. We know that it has a higher incidence of seizures and irregular heartbeats and hypothermia.
“And the PMMA is being sold as ecstasy, so you have absolutely no idea what you’re getting.”
Yarema said he also wants teenagers to know that PMMA can cause permanent brain and kidney damage.
Over the last few days, police have been distributing posters at Calgary schools to warn students that PMMA and ecstasy may be cut with dangerous substances such as drain cleaner or campstove fuel.
The slogan on the posters is What You Can’t See Can Kill You.
Yarema will also take part in an hour-long question-and-answer session this Friday on Twitter about the dangers of the drug.
The message will be aimed at young people and their parents.
RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb said the brightly coloured pills can change hands numerous times before they are actually sold to the person who takes them.
Police suspect the source could be the B.C. Lower Mainland, but the drugs could be made in a makeshift lab just about anywhere. Often the person who sells the PMMA isn’t aware of what is in the pills.
“They simply got a pill from somebody who got a pill from somebody. The only one who really knows what is in it is the guy who made it in the first place,” Webb said.
“The ones who are dying are buying what they think is ecstasy and they are getting PMMA.
“And it is killing them.”
In Calgary, police are urging people who have ecstasy tablets to turn them in. At one point, police briefly considered amnesty for people who have the drug, but decided the force didn’t have the legal jurisdiction, said spokesman Kevin Brooker. The move could also have let criminals off the hook.
Brooker said police also want to step up efforts to get word out to adults about PMMA’s dangers.
“If you look at the deaths in Calgary, the ages have been from the late teens to the mid 40s,” he said.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton