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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Heartbroken families make public plea after tragic drug-related deaths of best friends

Published 08/04/2014 | 17:49

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The funeral of 22-year-old Michael Coleman in Dungarvan, who died after taking a lethal ecstasy-based drug. Inset: Victims Michael Coleman and Liam Coffey
Victims Michael Coleman and Liam Coffey
Victims Michael Coleman and Liam Coffey

The heartbroken families of two young men who died after unwittingly taking an Ecstasy powder laced with a synthetic substance nicknamed 'Death' have pleaded with youngsters not to use drugs.

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The Coffey and Coleman families issued the plea after Cork coroner Dr Frank O'Connell said it was "shocking" that, 16 years after hearing his first Ecstasy inquest in Kinsale, he was once again dealing with two innocent young lives destroyed by drugs.

Liam Coffey (22) and Michael Coleman (22) died in Kinsale, Co Cork on September 10 2012 after ingesting a drugs powder which had been contaminated with PMMA.

The two Waterford friends were found dead at Mr Coleman’s rented house at Abbey Lane in Kinsale.

The young men, both accomplished students, thought they were taking a powdered form of Ecstasy or MDMA known as 'Mandy'.

In fact, the brown, sugar-like powder had been laced with a drug called PMMA which is nicknamed 'Death'.

"These were innocents who did not know what they were doing or did not understand the risks involved," Dr O'Connell said.

"These are deadly poisons which should not be meddled with."

Dr O'Connell said there was "a certain culture out there" where young people, particularly those in college, feel they can experiment.

But he issued a public plea for youngsters to realise the deadly dangers of using drugs.

"There are huge risks involved in this...it is shocking that, since 1996, the same thing happens again in 2012."

Both families attended the inquest and at its conclusion Fionnuala and Richard Coffey as well as Kevin Coleman pleaded with youngsters to heed the coroner's warning.

"They should do exactly what the coroner said...stay away from drugs. Do not take drugs because they can kill you," Mr Coleman said.

He said neither of the two young men knew that the powder involved was laced with PMMA.

He said those that supplied the drugs powder similarly didn't know it had been contaminated with PMMA.

"When you get something in powdered form there is no way of checking out what is in it," Mrs Coffey said.

"Absolutely anything could be added to it - it is a really, really risky thing to do."

Mr Coffey described those who contaminate or deal in drugs as "thugs."

The inquest heard that both young men were socialising together in Kinsale when they 'bombed' or swallowed some of the powdered drug wrapped in cigarette paper.

Mr Coleman’s girlfriend, Ciara Drummey, raised the alarm when she woke during the night to discover both young men collapsed downstairs.

PMMA is slower acting that MDMA, an Ecstasy-like drug, but is extremely powerful and highly toxic when combined with other substances like alcohol.

PMMA can cause respiratory problems, fatal body temperature spikes as well as multiple organ failure.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said both young men were found to have fatal levels of MDMA and PMMA.

She warned that while PMMA is slower acting but far more toxic than MDMA, there is no safe dose for either drug.

One Irish woman died after taking just half an Ecstasy tablet.

The two friends had been celebrating Mr Coleman’s first week in his new job at US pharmaceutical firm, Eli Lilly.

Mr Coffey had travelled to Kinsale for the celebration – and had stayed in the small terraced house which was only rented by Mr Coleman two weeks before his death.

There were immediate fears the deaths were the result of a contaminated drug batch and an unprecedented public warning was issued by Gardai and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Last February, four young people who admitted supplying the lethal drugs cocktail to the two men avoided prison terms at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Judge Donagh McDonagh warned that there was “no more eloquent statement” than the tragic case that drug dealing destroys lives.

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