Over the past couple of weeks ecstasy users across the country were warned there appeared to be a batch of pills around that could possibly contain PMA. These pills appeared to be marketed as red Mitsubishis. In addition to this warning there was also an ecstasy-related death which the media immediately linked to these pills.

So what do we actually know about this whole story -“ were there PMA pills doing the rounds and is there any link between these and the death of the Sydney teenager?
First of all, what is PMA? PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) is an amphetamine-type drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. It has no medical use. Its effects are similar to those of MDA, although PMA is far more toxic. It first appeared as a recreational drug in North America in the early 1970s, usually sold as MDA, and became associated with fatalities soon after it entered into street use. In Ontario, for example, the deaths of nine young people were confirmed to be caused by PMA between March and August 1973.

A couple of weekends ago two young men were admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital after taking ecstasy. One was extremely ill and caused emergency workers great concern. In the following couple of days an email was circulated across the gay community which was based on an element of truth but also contained a number of inaccuracies. It said that two people were admitted to hospital (true), they had taken red Mitsubishis (supposedly true), one had died (false), toxicology had been carried out (false), and the pills were 10 times stronger than normal ecstasy (false -“ we didn’t know that information).

As a result of this email and great community concern, ACON issued a warning about the possibility of a particularly toxic batch of ecstasy being on the streets. So where did the PMA come from -“ who suggested it and what evidence did we have? Well, a quick search of the internet will show you that red Mitsubishis have been linked with PMA since 2000 when there was a death of a young man in Austria. Since that time the PMA/red Mitsubishi urban myth has reared its ugly head a number of times. Over the past week I have done a great deal of searching looking for any hard evidence since that time of a link between the brand and PMA. I can find none.

Sadly the death of the teenage girl last weekend only added fuel to the fire. We are still waiting for toxicology results but most experts believe there is no link between the supposed toxic batch and her death. We could be proven wrong but it is looking highly doubtful that her death was PMA-related.

I believe that warnings need to be disseminated very carefully -“ we need to have good hard facts to support our claims. At no time was there any evidence to indicate that PMA was contained in any pills in Sydney. We do not want to be perceived as the boy who cried wolf, or users will simply not believe us the next time.

The warning was definitely heeded by many in the community. People were concerned that they could have bad pills and adjusted their behaviour accordingly. This was an extremely positive response and the community should be applauded for this.

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