Similar to ecstasy, DMAA proved difficult to identify in death of Scappoose girl

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison said DMAA, a drug he suspects is new to the area, may have claimed its first life in the United States when Kendall Grady, a 15-year-old Scappoose Girl, died from taking the substance last year. A drug detected in the blood of at least three Oregon girls who thought they were taking ecstasy last year may be a new narcotic to the state, says Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison.

In fact, Atchision said the death of a Scappoose girl last year may be the first recorded fatality in the United States directly caused by the substance, called DMAA.

The drug was given to four girls at a party in Vernonia in July 2012, making them sick and killing one, Kendall Grady of Scappoose, who at the time was 15 years old. Three men, all from Washington County, have been identified as part of the delivery chain that brought the drug to Columbia County.

One man, Michael Alan McClure, 20, of Cornelius was sentenced last week to 36 months’ probation for his part in the case.

As of April 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had received 86 reports of illness, including at least five deaths, associated with supplements containing DMAA. The reports, however, do not prove that the drug caused the health problems. It is unclear whether the data that supports those numbers was gathered from a national or international sample.

Until 2011, DMAA was stocked on the shelves of military base stores in the U.S. but was pulled pending an investigation into the deaths of four soldiers who died after taking the stimulant, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report.

“It’s relatively new. It’s the first time we’ve seen it around here at least.” Atchison said. “The drug is called DMAA, or dimethylamylamine, and is generically described as a dietary supplement and decongestant and stimulant.”

Researchers were at first unable to identify the substance, Atchison said. A blood sample containing the then-unknown substance was initially sent to an Oregon lab for analysis, where it remained unidentified. The sample was then was sent to a lab in San Francisco, where it remained a mystery. Finally, the drug was identified as DMAA at an East Coast lab, Atchison said.

“It’s related closely to MDMA [ecstasy] and other amphetamines, but had a different molecule or two in it,” Atchison continued. “It’s big in Asia and down to Australia and New Zealand. It’s relatively new to the United States.”

DMAA has been used for muscle building, weight loss and performance enhancement; it can elevate blood pressure and can lead to cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, shortness of breath and tightness of breath, according to the FDA’s website, which posted a warning to companies in April known to be using DMAA in dietary supplements that the ingredient is illegal.

Although the drug first appeared as a dietary supplement, DMAA is claimed to provide a euphoric effect to its users and soon became a common ingredient in party drugs, according to

Prior to its ban in New Zealand in 2012, DMAA was used as an active ingredient in party pills sold online. One New Zealand man suffered a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after ingesting two capsules of DMAA and one caffeine pill in 2010, according to the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Asked whether he knew how the suspects who assisted in the delivery of the drug in Vernonia came upon such a rare substance, Atchison replied, “I’m not at liberty to tell you that.”

He added that the drug arrived in Scappoose after passing through Cornelius. Before that, it came through Portland. The DMAA was eventually ingested in Columbia County.

Atchison said he wasn’t completely clear as to the effects of the drug.

“I can’t tell from the way these girls reacted whether that was a typical reaction or not,” he said.

“The drug world is constantly changing and evolving and we also have to look out for the newest high that people are trying to get,” said St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss. “Hopefully this is not the tip of the iceberg.”

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