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Teen Drug Alert

Chicago Sun-Times
By Art Golab
May 22, 2000

A suburban teen who died last week from an overdose of what she thought was the rave drug ecstasy appears to be the first U.S. victim of a more powerful and dangerous form of the drug, prompting officials to warn of the new drug's emergence in the area.

And another suburban teen who died earlier this month may also have overdosed on the same more dangerous drug.

Both 18-year-old Sara Aeschlimann of Naperville and 17-year-old Steve Lorenz of McHenry died within the last two weeks after taking pills sold as ecstasy, or MDMA.

Now police say the drug Aeschlimann took was really PMA, a similar, more potent hallucinogenic drug that has caused fatalities in Canada and Australia but which has not turned up in significant amounts in the United States.

The pill Lorenz took before he died was identical in appearance to Aeschlimann's, but authorities are still awaiting tests to see if it is PMA, otherwise known as paramethoxyamphetamine.

Studies have shown regular use of ecstasy can lead to memory loss and damage to brain cells that regulate mood, sleep and appetite. MDMA also speeds up the heartbeat and causes involuntary grinding of the teeth. However, the drug rarely is fatal.

The same cannot be said for PMA.

It claimed nine lives in Toronto in 1973, the first recorded fatalities. At least six more died when the drug resurfaced in Australia in the late '90s.

And in recent months, PMA has started to turn up in the United States, but Hillebrand knows of no confirmed fatalities other than the Naperville case.

Though more powerful than ecstasy, PMA doesn't take effect as quickly, encouraging users to overdose. When PMA does kick in, it can raise the body temperature up to 106 degrees in people who overdose.

"You literally cook from the inside out," Hillebrand said. Convulsions and death follow.

In the Naperville case, the PMA tablets sold were identical to ecstasy tablets making the rounds in the area, McGury said. And it's not just PMA that's being substituted for ecstasy.

A DEA study of tablets found only half contained MDMA. Others had various combinations of amphetamines and the animal tranquilizer ketamine.

Copyright 2000, Digital Chicago Inc.