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The day drugs sent shockwaves through our middle-class families

DOWN at the coroner's court, drug deaths are 10 a penny -- so frequent that the coroner will often devote an entire day to dispatching up to a dozen of them at a time.

One by one, the bleakly tragic details of each individual case are summed up with a verdict of death by misadventure.

Usually, such deaths go unreported, or at least scarcely reported. It is the callous truth that there are simply too many of them to tell each tale and usually nothing 'startling' in the facts to merit more than a few lines of copy.

Today, however, middle-class parents will have received a jolt of reality with the unpleasant realisation that not all drug deaths take place within the confines of a squalid inner-city flat. Generally, yes. But not always. Sometimes they can happen right on our doorstep.

Sometimes they happen in nice places, to nice neighbours who never did anyone any harm and just felt like doing something 'wild', perhaps on the spur of the moment.

Yesterday could be said to be the moment when the truth about drug abuse came home to the middle classes.

The tragic and horrific deaths in Cork of Michael Coleman and Liam Coffey were unprecedented and shocking in their 'normality'.

These were two good-looking young graduates from decent families in the countryside. They had much more to live for than the 'average' drug addict -- uneducated, in poor health, drifting in and out of jail.

But the truth is that drugs amongst the middle classes are nothing new.

Anyone who went to college in the 1990s and onwards will be on first-name terms, if not with heroin and cocaine, then with ecstasy, hash and other substances. They may not have taken these drugs themselves but they will have known plenty of friends who did or who continue to do so.

But yesterday's warning by the HSE to be vigilant of the brown powdered ecstasy believed to have caused the two deaths in Kinsale will have caused many people and their parents to shudder.

The list of symptoms associated with the powder do not make for light reading and include high fever, rapid heart rate and agitation.

Not exactly the type of 'buzz' party-goers are looking for when they engage in 'recreational' drug use.

The HSE first became aware of the powder when emergency services received a call on Sunday morning. Samples of the substance involved in the death were taken to the National Laboratory, which confirmed yesterday that the powder contained the chemicals MDMA and PMMA.

The HSE is now liaising with community and voluntary groups working with drugs users and with the gardai.

David Lane, co-ordinator of addiction services for HSE South, said anyone who uses the powder with other drugs and/or alcohol is at a higher risk of overdose.

Twenty years ago, there were only about six or eight different drugs available. Now there is a myriad, including those made artificially or genetically modified, which are then sold online.

Finding out which substance they are dealing with when a drug-overdose case is rushed to an A&E department is the serious problem faced by hospital staff as they battle to save a life -- middle-class or otherwise.

Irish Independent