VANCOUVER — B.C. has been the primary source of ecstasy for Americans wanting a hit of the love drug because of previous lax regulations around the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture it, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
But tougher new laws on possessing the chemicals in Canada has led to a drop in the number of labs up here — and is leading to the spread of new types of drugs, police say.
Jeffrey Scott, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said his country has seen a marked increase in ecstasy seizures along its northern border with Canada, most of them linked with Canadian-based Vietnamese drug trafficking gangs. In 2010, he noted, 15 million tablets of ecstasy, also known as MDMA, were seized in the U.S. — with four million of those on the country's northern border, compared with two million in 2006.
"It goes without saying that ecstasy seizures around the northern border show an increase," Scott said. "Canadian-based ethnic Asian drug trafficking organizations remain one of the primary suppliers in the U.S."
Last year, Joseph Patrick Curry, a 50-year-old Fraser Valley man who once had close ties to the leader of the United Nations gang, was sentenced in a Washington court to more than eight years in a U.S. jail for ecstasy smuggling. In a separate case, Silvano Cicuto, 72, of New Westminster, B.C., was convicted in New York of ecstasy smuggling.
Scott noted it's often easier to ship ecstasy rather than a bulk shipment of marijuana because pills can be stashed in a suitcase.
Ecstasy is usually marketed to young people under 30 for parties and raves. The drug, which can cost as little as $3 to $10 per pill, offers effects that can last two to six hours "if the first pill doesn't kill you," said Sgt. Duncan Pound, of the RCMP's drug enforcement division.
Ecstasy is considered a dangerous drug cocktail that varies in potency because the criminals who manufacture it aren't regulated and care more about making a profit, Pound said.
The drug often is laced with other drugs such as methamphetamine, ketamine and cocaine, which have their own adverse effects.
In the past week, use of the drug has left a 17-year-old Abbotsford, B.C., girl dead and a 24-year-old woman from the same Fraser Valley community in hospital in critical condition. At least three recent deaths in Calgary have been linked to the drug.
B.C.'s chief medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said that according to the BC Coroners' Office, in the four years to 2010 there have been an average of 10 to 24 ecstasy-related deaths per year. People who suffer an adverse reaction to ecstasy can have psychotic breakdowns, hallucinations and agitation as well as seizures, kidney failure and, in rare cases, heart attacks.
"You don't know what's in it and you don't know what the dosages are," Kendall said. "Depending on the dose, your size, how long you've been taking it . . . you can have a variety of adverse effects."
Pound agreed there is "no good batch" of the drug, which can be manufactured in unsanitary labs and by people who are high on ecstasy themselves, leading to wide variations in the pills that are distributed.
"If they miss a step, they'll push it out anyway," Pound said. "There's no quality control so there's no way of knowing what's in there and on top of that each individual person reacts differently . . . you're instantly rolling the dice with your life."
Both police and health officials in B.C. have issued a public warning urging people to avoid taking the drug.
Pound noted Canada had been a hotbed for producing ecstasy because it was easier to access the precursor chemicals — ephedrine and pseudoephedrine — than in the U.S. Before 2011, the importation of the chemicals was regulated, but possession once they were in the country was not illegal, making Canada an attractive location in which to manufacture ecstasy.
However, an amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act now makes it a crime to possess the tools of synthetic drug production. Pound noted the new law has led to an increase in new drugs, which are similar to ecstasy with similar euphoric stimulants but don't have the same complex chemical makeup.
"They're trying to find a new niche where they can make money," he said.
BY KELLY SINOSKI,
JANUARY 4, 2012
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