During a 6 month period (July 2010-January 2011) we observed 12 fatal intoxications and 22 non-fatal cases related to the drug paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) in Norway (4.8 mill inhabitants). This toxic designer drug, also known as "Death", is occasionally found in street drugs offered as "ecstasy" or "amphetamine". The present study aimed to evaluate the cause of death, and to compare the PMMA blood concentrations in fatal and non-fatal cases. Methods for identification and quantification of PMMA are presented. The median age of fatalities was 30 years (range 15-50) with 67% males; in non-fatal cases 27 years (20-47) with 86% males. In the 12 fatalities, the median PMMA blood concentration was 1.92 mg/L (range 0.17-3.30), which is in the reported lethal range of 0.6-3.1 mg/L in peripheral blood and 1.2-15.8 mg/L in heart blood. In the 22 non-fatal cases, the median PMMA concentration was 0.07 mg/L (range 0.01-0.65). Poly-drug use was frequent both in fatal and non-fatal cases. The PMA concentrations ranging from 0.00 to 0.26 mg/L in both groups likely represented a PMMA metabolite. Three fatalities were attributed to PMMA only, six to PMMA and other psychostimulant drugs, and three to PMMA and CNS depressant drugs, with median PMMA concentrations of 3.05 mg/L (range 1.58-3.30), 2.56 (1.52-3.23) and 0.52 mg/L (0.17-1.24), respectively. Eight victims were found dead, while death was witnessed in four cases, with symptoms of acute respiratory distress, hyperthermia, cardiac arrest, convulsions, sudden collapse and/or multiple organ failure. In summary, all fatalities attributed to PMMA had high PMMA blood concentrations compared to non-fatal cases. Our sample size was too small to evaluate a possible impact of poly-drug use. A public warning is warranted against use and overdose with illegal "ecstasy" or "speed" drugs.
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