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ECSTASY: 'If I don't stop this, I'm going to die'
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That’s the message from the Abbotsford Police Department and the Fraser Health Authority in the wake of 18 ecstasy deaths in B.C. since the start of 2011.
This week, APD launched Operation X, an initiative intended to warn and inform teens and parents about the danger of street drugs, including ecstasy.
Dr. Victoria Lee, medical health officer for the FHA, says they are also actively working with schools to get that message out.
Ecstasy has taken hold in a young demographic who might not fully understand the risk.
Lee reiterates that the safest and wisest choice is to not take it at all.
“You can do permanent damage from the first time,” Lee advises. “Even one is unsafe.”
Ecstasy-related emergencies are bad news, agrees Dr. Roy Purssell.
The medical director of the B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre is also an emergency physician at Vancouver General Hospital.
An ecstasy situation almost always means serious trouble, he says, because most people having a negative reaction wait too long to go to the hospital, or the people they are with don’t realize the seriousness of a delay.
Ecstasy, also referred to by its abbreviated form MDMA, can be fatal because of how it raises body temperature to dangerous levels, which can shut down the body’s blood-clotting ability and lead to multi-organ failure.
Purssell says if the temperature remains high – above 40.5 degrees C (normal is 37) – for more than an hour, the chance of death or permanent brain damage is 75 per cent.
“Patients have come in after a delay with a huge increase in temperature and, with the best of medical care, it has been impossible to stop them from dying ... These are young people with full lives.”
Emergency medical intervention in such cases involves rendering the patient unconscious – if they haven’t come in that way – and packing them in ice to reduce their temperature.
If the victim survives, he or she may suffer long-term effects such as lung damage; kidney failure, which requires dialysis and may or may not be reversible; brain damage; and liver failure, which often proves fatal because of the long wait for a transplant.
Purssell says some people may experience a bad reaction to ecstasy while others around them don’t because they might have taken a higher dose or might have consumed other drugs as well.
Also, some people might metabolize the drug differently, due to a genetic predisposition.
Purssell said the problem is that nobody knows whether they have that genetic sensitivity, nor do they know what exact concoction of chemicals is in their dose.
Symptoms to watch for consist of generally feeling ill or warm, perspiring and nausea.
Recent deaths in Calgary and B.C. involved ecstasy that was described as having been “tainted” with a chemical known as PMMA.
Police and medical authorities have said this in an indication of the danger of using drugs manufactured in home labs and sold on the streets.
Ecstasy – in any form – is always a risk, Purssell says.
“The ‘tainted’ ecstasy will disappear .. but we’ll still be back in the situation where people are dying.”
ECSTASY EFFECTS AND TERMS
Ecstasy is a slang term for MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. MDMA is criminalized in most countries.
How is it used:
Most people who abuse ecstasy take a pill, tablet or capsule. These pills can be different colours, and usually have logos or images stamped on them. Pure MDMA can also be snorted as a powder.
Ecstasy is readily available, at a cost of approximately $5 to $10 per tablet, and has become popular within social and party scenes of all ages.
MDMA acts on a brain chemical called seratonin. The release of seratonin initially creates feelings of euphoria, pleasure, energy, confidence, increased senses of touch, taste and smell; it also gives users a feeling of personal insight, empathy and sociability.
For most people, a “hit” of MDMA lasts for two to six hours. Once the pill is swallowed, it takes about 15 minutes for MDMA to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. About 45 minutes later, the person experiences a “high.” People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or hyper, at first.
MDMA can also cause muscle tension, nausea, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Forceful clenching of the teeth can occur. Bulging eyes are also a common side effect.
The effects of MDMA – including feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and memory difficulties – can last for several days to a week (or longer in people who use MDMA regularly).
MDMA interferes with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, thus it can cause dangerous overheating, called hyperthermia. This can lead to serious heart and kidney problems, and, in some cases, death.
MDMA can be extremely dangerous in high doses or when multiple small doses are taken within a short time period to maintain the high. High levels of the drug in the blood stream can increase the risk of seizures and affect the heart’s ability to maintain normal rhythms.
Although what is sold as ecstasy may contain MDMA, what started in a more pure form is now a chemical cocktail.
Crystal meth, LSD, GHB, cocaine, ketamine and other chemicals have been discovered in ecstasy capsules in various amounts.
These tablets are purposely manufactured this way to enhance the user’s experience and give longer effects, however, the user has no idea what he or she is are ingesting.