Party pills: Potent drugs disguised as ecstasy are taking over the streets
Twenty years ago, Leah Betts from Essex went into a coma after taking a single ecstasy pill on her 18th birthday and died five days later. It was later found she died from water intoxication, having drunk seven litres to avoid dehydration. But it was too late to curb the moral panic that erupted over rave culture's drug of choice.
Ecstasy's popularity among middle-class club-goers waned during Ireland's boom and a changing popular culture, to be replaced by cocaine. It has been staging a comeback - along with cheaper, more sinister versions that are passed off for the drug.
While the exact cause of death has yet to be established for Ana Hick, the beautiful 18-year-old who collapsed outside the Twister Pepper club last weekend, it has been reported she had taken PMMA (paramethoxymethamphetamine), an amphetamine-based drug often sold as ecstasy.
PMMA, like PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), belongs to a breed of drugs similar to ecstasy that is flooding the country. Because they are cheaper or more readily available than MDMA, they are increasing present in pills or powders - even dealers themselves may not realise the drug they are selling is not pure ecstasy.
PMA and PMMA are both more unpredictable and poisonous than MDMA, the active component in ecstasy that causes the euphoric rush popular among clubbers. They also have a much slower onset, so users often take a second pill in the mistaken belief the first one didn't work. PMMA and PMA are toxic at lower doses than MDMA, increasing the threat of seizures, convulsions, and heart attack.
These substances, which mimic the effects of controlled drugs, can be bought online and delivered by post. Indeed, customs officers at the Revenue Commissioners are seizing foreign consignments of synthetic drugs in the post at a record rate. The gardaí and the HSE are concerned about fake ecstasy tablets that are green and have an apple embossed or the Rolex symbol embossed on them, as well as with white pills with a Mitsubishi logo.
But teenagers are consuming the drugs without knowing what they contain, says Marie Byrne, founder of Aisling Group International, an addiction counselling charity in Co Meath. "These children are reading about them on the internet, but there is so much information they don't know which is true," she says. "They know nearly nothing about drugs they are taking."
The Ana Liffey Drug Project last year began sending posters to nightclubs, bars and music venues warning ecstasy users about PMA/PMMA and their effects.
These new toxic combinations have been implicated in a number of deaths in Ireland in recent years; at least six people died in the first half of last year had PMA or PMMA. Indeed, PMA is sometimes referred to as Dr Death. Evidence at the inquest of Liam Coffey and Michael Coleman, two friends who passed away at a rented house in Kinsale, Co Cork in 2012, showed they had traces of MDMA and PMMA within the fatal range. Frank O'Connell, a coroner in west Cork, said the friends probably did not know the risks of taking the drugs.