Friday 24 May 2019

After Alex 'N Bomb' tragedy, drug education can prevent more deaths

Sister Nicole: ‘It's not when it's going to happen again, but whose child is next'

A young Millstreet woman who lost her teenage brother after he took a deadly hallucinogenic drug while attending a house party in Cork city last year has welcomed a call from a coroner for a more structured approach to educating young people in schools about the dangers of drug taking.

Nicole Ryan from Old Coach Road, Liscahane in Millstreet, said she fully backed Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn's call for a more structured approach to educating young people in schools on the dangers of drug taking after hearing some harrowing evidence about the death of her brother, Alex.

Alex (18) died in Cork University Hospital on January 23, 2016, some four days after he collapsed at a house party in Cork city where he took a hallucinogenic drug known as N Bomb, thinking it was another synthetic drug called 2CP.

Speaking outside her brother's inquest after Coroner Mr Comyn returned a verdict of death by misadventure, Ms Ryan said the HSE in particular needs to be proactive in terms of educating young people about the dangers of drug taking. "He [coroner] had very good valid points about what we are trying to do with regard to raising awareness about the dangers of synthetic drugs here in Ireland," said Ms Ryan, who began her own campaign last year to educate people when she started visiting schools to talk about her brother's death.

"The HSE need to start stepping up (in this regard) in that history has repeated itself already this year - last year we lost my brother to drugs and this year we have lost 16 year old Michael Cornacchia, who died early this year after taking another drug here in Cork.

"The scary question for parents is not when it's going happen again but whose child is going to be next because it will happen time and time again unless we start talking about it and educating our young people about the serious dangers of synthetic drugs."

Ms Ryan said that after hearing evidence at the inquest about how others at the house party in Greenmount were so out of it on hallucinogenic drugs that they continued dancing around the place while her brother was suffering cardiac arrest, people need to know about the dangers of drugs.

"Alex did willingly take that drug and he played Russian roulette with his life but he saved people's lives when he was alive and even through organ donation - we can look up to him and remember him for something good that he did rather than a stupid mistake he made that cost him his life.

"My message to young people is to think about the consequences of the choices you are making because with this stuff you never know what you are getting. Young people are young and naive and we all think when we are young that we are invincible but the reality is that we are not.

"One mistake and you could be dead - you could take one of these drugs and the first time you get your high and you're fine but the next time could be your last time so there's a lot of education needed around this and we need to start opening our eyes and realise this is a massive issue.

"We need to start doing something about it, particularly here in Cork, where it is a massive issue - it was shocking to hear one of the witnesses say that she had the best time of her life that night when somebody was lying in cardiac arrest on the floor beside her.

"It was just ridiculous hearing her say that and there are people out there for whom life is just one big party but, as we see here today, you try something and it can be your last time trying it and then the party is over - it's all fun and games until something like this happens."

Ms Ryan, who was praised by Mr Comyn for taking her message to young people in schools around Cork, said her work in schools was important to her as it helped her and her family cope with their loss and it helped her to keep her brother's memory alive.

"When I go and talk to the students they realise he is a real person and I always say that Alex could be anybody's child and it's true - it could happen to anyone so easily and it really is worrying for parents to think that it's not just a matter of when but who is next," she said.

At the inquest, Mr Comyn said he would be recommending that there be a more planned, structured approached to drug awareness education in schools involving the HSE, gardai and those who had personal experience of the dangers of drug taking.

"As it is, some schools do have such programmes but it's very much down to the individual schools and the individual teachers but I would be recommending a much more structured approach in schools as well as at third level where students unions might become more involved," he said.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said Mr Ryan died from hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy - or global brain damage - due to cardiac arrest after ingesting 251N Bomb at a house party at a property at St Patricks Terrace, Greenmount in Cork on January 19, 2016.

Questioned by Mr Comyn, Dr Bolster said that taking synthetic drugs like CP2 (which Mr Ryan and others thought they were taking) or 251 N Bomb, or ecstasy amounted to Russian roulette as there was no quality control on such street drugs and no guarantee people would react in the same way.

Dr Bolster's comments were supported by Det Sgt Jason Lynch who said that gardai had found that MDMA tablets and other synthetic drugs were often bulked up with other agents and analysis had found that these included Ajax cleaner cement, rat poison and piano wire cleaner.

The N Bomb which Mr Ryan took had been bought over the dark net and sent from an address in Thailand. It was the first time that gardai had encountered it in Cork but they were finding that synthetic drugs coming into Cork were changing almost week to week.

One of those who took the drug with Mr Ryan, thinking it was 2CP, was Siobhan Talbot (20) from Knockpogue, Aghadoe in Killarney, who told gardai she often took ecstasy and smoked cannabis but the drug she took that night when Mr Ryan took ill gave her her best ever hallucinogenic experience.

"The visuals were very strong and at one point I thought it was crazy, but not bad crazy, it was so strong but in a good way. We were all tripping. It was my best experience of hallucinogens," said Ms Talbot, who was found dancing naked in the house by gardai and paramedics.

They had been called to the scene by two passersby who found another party goer, Mark Naundorf (19) naked on the street, bleeding from the arms and legs after smashing a mirror and dancing on the broken glass after taking two tabs of N Bomb, thinking it was 2CP.

Another witness, Jessica O'Connor, (20) from Ballyhar in Killarney, who bought the N Bomb with Mr Ryan from dealer Harry Clifton, told gardai that she didn't have any adverse effects initially after taking the drug but she recalled what happened when Mr Naundorf began to behave erratically.

"We were back in the house about an hour when Mark started to go crazy. He was screaming at everybody's face and running around the place. He smashed a mirror and cut himself with a piece of glass - he was running around, smearing blood all over the place," she said.

Returning a verdict of death by misadventure, Mr Comyn said that over one third of all 253 inquests that he dealt with in Cork city in 2016 related to people whose deaths were either directly caused by drugs, including alcohol, or where drugs, including alcohol, had been a contributory factor.

He said that of the 46 inquests held so far this year, almost 37p% related to people whose deaths were caused by or contributed to by drugs, including alcohol, and four of these 17 deaths were of people under the age of 25.

Following the verdict, Mr Comyn extended his sympathies to the late Mr Ryan's family on their tragic loss and he praised their generosity in donating the teenager's heart, liver and kidneys which had helped save the lives of four other people.