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Overdoses Push Police to Spread Word on Ecstasy Lookalike Drugs

Chicago Tribune
By Jeff Coen
May 19, 2000

Naperville police said Thursday that they will encourage schools in the city to send a letter home with students urging parents to discuss "club drugs" and other substances with their kids.

Police will be asking for help as they continue to scramble to get the word out on an Ecstasy lookalike pill that may be responsible for two deaths in the Chicago area in recent weeks. An 18-year-old Naperville woman who died Sunday after apparently ingesting several tablets of a dangerous hallucinogen she allegedly thought was Ecstasy was remembered at a service in the city Thursday.

Police said Naperville Central High School senior Sara Aeschlimann died after taking paramethoxyamphetamine, or PMA. A 17-year-old McHenry youth died of an overdose May 7, and police there are investigating whether the same Ecstasy lookalike was to blame.

Sgt. Lisa Burghardt, supervisor of the Naperville Police Department's Youth Services Unit, said she will push for the additional warning.

Burghardt said parents should consider the circumstances of Aeschlimann's death. The teen was at a house on a quiet street with two friends when she went into convulsions about 10 a.m. Sunday.

"Parents should know, with almost any kind of teen drug use, it doesn't have to be a rave party," Burghardt said. "Kids can be sitting around, they can be at the Riverwalk, they can be bowling or they can be at the movies--and they're high. There is no one situation to watch for."

Lisa Galdikas, student assistance program coordinator at Naperville North, said staff members at city schools will comply with any request made by the Police Department. Parents are sent materials on drugs every year, she said, including information on "rave" drugs like Ketamine, Ecstasy and GHB.

Kids at city schools have been warned about the lookalike substance in recent days, Galdikas said, and school nurses have been advised on what symptoms to look for.

Many parents have called this week to ask about substances they have found, Galdikas said, including one mother of a grade-schooler who made a troubling find in her home.

"It turns out she had a legitimate concern," Galdikas said. "This has turned into a real wake-up call."

Drug experts on Thursday continued to express fears that a lethal Ecstasy-like substance could be floating around the Chicago area.

Michael Hillebrand of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago said his organization has seized some PMA in Chicago, but when it comes through the door, it almost always is tagged as Ecstasy.

"When you lay [these pills] side by side you see, they are the same size, the same color and have the same logo," he said. "They are the same, the same, the same. It would take a [chemical] analysis to tell them apart."

The pills in question in the recent deaths are described as slightly larger than a common aspirin, with the three-diamond logo of the Mitsubishi company stamped on them. Ecstasy tablets are often imprinted with designs, experts said, in an attempt to give individual formulas a reputation on the street. The pills being examined in the recent cases go by the street name "Double-stack White Mitsubishi."

Pharmacologists say Ecstasy and PMA are stimulants, but PMA is many times more powerful. The substance can rapidly boost the body's temperature and cause heart failure.

Ecstasy is dangerous in its own right, as evidenced by information released by the McHenry County coroner's office Thursday.

A representative of the office said Steve Lorenz, whose death is being investigated as possibly related to PMA, isn't the only recent McHenry fatality blamed at least in part on club drugs.

William Callaghan, 19, also of McHenry, was pronounced dead at the Northern Illinois Medical Center Oct. 20. The cause of death, according to the McHenry County coroner's office, was poly-drug intoxication.

Among the substances in Callaghan's system, according to toxicology reports, was methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy. Traces of cocaine and marijuana also were discovered, the office reported.

"We tell kids not to drink and drive and to wear seat belts, but often they don't listen and they die," said Marlene Lantz, McHenry County coroner. "We tell them not to be sticking anything that is illegal up their noses or down their throats, and they don't listen."

McHenry police still are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Lorenz. One of the teen's friends, 21-year-old Steven M. Jergensen, has been charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance in connection with the case. A 21-year-old Naperville man, Garrett Harth, is facing drug charges in connection with the Aeschlimann death.

Police said they are counting on the publicity surrounding the drug cases to be a warning to area teens. Burghardt said high-profile overdoses tend to influence teen behavior, but only for a time.

"Unfortunately, the effect is not long-lasting," she said. "They might be aware and concerned for a little while, but they always go back. What we see is `it-can't-happen-to-me syndrome.'"