New party pills leave four seriously ill

Last updated 22:55 11/01/2009

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Health officials want one of the main ingredients in new-generation party pills restricted after four users became seriously ill.

Advice to the Government highlights concerns about DMAA (dimethylamylamine), a derivative of geranium oil, which is a "psychoactive substance" that reportedly gives users an adrenaline rush.

DMAA is included in several new-generation party pill substances, including Sunrise and Hummer.

These flooded the market when BZP varieties were banned and were now being sold nationally in stores, including dairies, without age restrictions.

Papers released under the Official Information Act showed a 45-year-old man suffered a stroke after taking DMAA in powder form, and other users had been hospitalised with severe nausea and headaches. The industry estimates 100,000 DMAA-based party pills have been sold since the banning of BZP in April.

A Health Ministry report to the Government's expert drug committee responsible for classifying drugs said while the hospital admissions were believed to be due to DMAA use, there was not enough evidence to ban the substance.

"[But] the ministry believes the regulation of DMAA as a restricted substance would be a preferable course of action to the status quo, which offers no controls around the marketing and availability of the substance."

It follows calls by drug experts last week to also make "chemical cannabis" marketed as Spice or Dream a restricted substance.

The restricted-substance classification was introduced in November.

It gives authorities greater control over the sale and marketing of a substance, including age restrictions.

Emergency department heads blew the whistle on DMAA after a spike in users admitted to Wellington and Waikato hospitals following the ban on BZP pills. Four serious cases at Waikato Hospital in June and July prompted the Health Ministry to issue a voluntary suspension of its sale in powder form in October.

A report to the committee in November said because only powdered DMAA was recalled, pills containing the substance were "still widely available".

The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs could not be contacted.

However, Drug Foundation director Ross Bell said DMAA should be classified as a restricted substance "as soon as possible".

He said the effects of DMAA were unknown.

Classification would mean the product could be sold with health warnings, but children could not legally buy it.

Matt Bowden, founder of party-pill developer Stargate International, would welcome DMAA restrictions.

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Problems were being encountered because there were no restrictions on the quantity used in pills, he said.

WHAT IS DMAA?

DMAA, or dimethylamylamine, is a stimulant derived from geranium plant oil and is usually mixed with other substances, including caffeine, to make party pills. It acts on the central nervous system, giving a rush similar to adrenaline. It is believed DMAA was first synthesised in the 1940s as a nasal decongestant and is also found in dietary and body-building products. The Health Ministry says the composition of the substance cannot be verified as there is no international research. While most users take DMAA orally, at least one hospital admission was linked to the substance being injected.

- The Dominion Post

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