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Carolyn loved partying, dancing, and her little boy.
Now she is dead, the newest victim of a drug more lethal than Ecstasy

The Glasgow Herald (Australia)
By Eveline Hunter
Aug 23, 1997
CAROLYN WEBB was an attractive and sociable young woman. The former secretary loved partying and by all accounts was a devoted mother to her little son Daniel. Now six-year-old Daniel has been left an orphan. His mother "took what she believed was the ravers' drug Ecstasy but which turned out to be Paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), a drug even more lethal than Ecstasy where the 'body literally races itself to death'."

Known on the streets as "Death", PMA looks like Ecstasy and has similar effects, but it is a chemical killing machine. Carolyn died on New Year's Day at the age of only 26. She is the latest of six known deaths in and around Adelaide during the past year in what has now become known as "The Designer Epidemic" in South Australia.

Other PMA deaths over the past year include: social worker Jacquiline Louch, 37; telephonist Yvette Newman, 24; kitchenhand Craig Demsley, 23; cook Alessandro Guizzo, 24; and in September the previous year Hells Angels' motorcyclist Alexander Radak, 35.

Police believe the true PMA death toll could be double or even more because not all deaths will have been investigated for the deadly substance. At present the epidemic seems to be confined to South Australia but the fear is that it might spread to other states in Australia and even to Britain and America and elsewhere.

The first recorded PMA deaths, of nine people in Ontario, Canada, were as long ago as 1973. Since then it seems to have taken a back seat until the fairly recent popularity of Ecstasy. Now it has resurfaced in South Australia and police believe it must be the work of an organised gang.

Detective Superintendent Denis Edmonds, chief of the State's Drug Task Force, says: "The ingredients are hard to get and some knowledge of chemistry would be needed to manufacture the drug. Also the laboratories where the drug is made would take a bit of setting up. It all adds up to a very organised job."

He adds he and his officers are liaising with Police Drug Forces in other States to find out whether some of the deaths attributed to Ecstasy elsewhere in Australia might have been related to PMA.

Assistant Police Commissioner, Rob Lean, in an official statement, said: "The message is very, very clear: if you value your life and the lives of your friends, don't use it and don't let others use it. There's nothing cool about melting down. It's a horrible death."

Wayne Chivell deals with death. He is the State Coroner and recently he took the unprecedented step of speaking directly to the media. At a press conference the father of three teenagers said in an emotional statement: "People think that Ecstasy is safe. It's not. It can be highly dangerous. And this drug is much more dangerous."

Of the risk to young people he said: "You have to tell them the truth about these drugs. They need to know they could be buying Ecstasy, or they could be buying something that will kill them."

Detective Senior Sergeant Terry Anderson, investigating Carolyn Webb's death, describes PMA as "absolute dynamite". He says: "You're just as safe picking a pill up out of the gutters as using the dealers. People using the drug are likely to start cooking from the inside out," says Professor Steven Allsop, Director of Education at the Drugs and Alcohol Services Council.

"You are playing with an extremely dangerous drug cocktail when you take Ecstasy. When PMA is added it is even more likely to disturb heart rhythm and cause meltdown than the original Ecstasy.

''No drug is safe but at least people should be warned that they might not be buying what they think they're buying."

Professor Allsop believes many people don't realise they are taking PMA. "It's very hard to estimate because it's an illicit trade. But drugs seized by police in the streets and clubs over the past two years show most Ecstasy tablets or capsules contain at least some PMA. Some are mostly PMA."

He thinks there isn't enough information to get the true PMA death toll in South Australia. "The difficulty is toxicology reports don't always detect or even look for evidence of PMA. And there are no published figures of the number of people going to hospital feeling unwell or dehydrated, but who might have taken Ecstasy or PMA.

"We're still puzzled about why death comes to some people and not to others. In a recent case two people went to bed together. One woke up. The other didn't. It could be to do with body metabolism, but we don't know for certain. We do know that PMA is most harmful when people have taken other drug cocktails and drank alcohol

"I think the manufacturers are a local group. I don't seriously think they're going to try to export to Europe but the recipe for PMA has been widely published in medical journals and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the Ecstasy deaths in Britain have a PMA element."

The illegal drug manufacturers have been warned they could face homicide charges.

Coroner Chivell says: "From a police point of view, the message to people who manufacture or deal in this product leading to death is this: It won't just be a drug investigation you will be facing. It may be a homicide investigation."

Drug testing stations in nightclubs is one proposal currently being considered, but this idea is getting a very mixed reaction.

Superintendent Edmonds says he will not rule out drug testing in clubs, but adds: "I wouldn't want to be seen condoning the use of illicit drugs. It would be dangerous practice to test a drug and then return it to the person, telling them it's all right to take."

Ian Horne, SA Manager of the Australian Hotels Association, says: "I'm not against the idea of testing in pubs and clubs, but I think that the reality from a community point of view is that it is absolutely impossible to stop the distribution of drugs.

"Police have outlawed drugs for a hundred years and haven't solved the problem.

"There should be some level of protection for young people who choose to use drugs.

"If these drugs are going to be available, they should be made as safe as possible. Until then we will continue to have deaths."

The Drug and Alcohol Services Council is currently drawing up recommendations for the control of dangerous drug use.

Professor Allsop says: "Drug testing is only one of the options being explored. The best way to avoid harm from illicit drugs is not to take them, but some people will continue to take them and they have to know all the facts.

"The main problem is that people aren't calling for help when they are suffering meltdown. They and their friends are frightened of being prosecuted for possession. If fewer charges of possession were made, more people might ring the emergency services."

The drug is Paramethoxyamphetamine, known as PMA or on the streets simply as "Death". It looks like Ecstasy but is made from different chemicals.

The effects on PMA creates a feeling of euphoria by blocking the hormone serotonin in nerve endings. Users feel they have endless energy.

The dangers: Users can start "cooking from the inside out". PMA raises the blood temperature, affects the heart rate, causes dehydration, increases the risk of convulsions and raises blood pressure, in some instances causing strokes and bleeding into the brain.

"There's nothing cool about meltdown. It's a horrible death." Victims become feverish and incoherent. They become so hot that even cold baths won't lower their body temperature. They start having convulsions. Eventually the heart or brain gives out. Meltdown can last up to 10 dreadful hours before inevitable death.