Alberta girls die after taking ecstasy
Two were among nine girls on Paul First Nation near Edmonton who had consumed illegal drug
EDMONTON -- Two Alberta teens who slipped into comas on the weekend after taking the street drug ecstasy with seven friends have died within hours of each other after being removed from life support.
Trinity Dawn Bird, 15, died Tuesday evening at an Edmonton hospital. Leah Dominique House, 14, died a few hours later.
Both girls were members of the Paul First Nation, about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton. A third girl who fell seriously ill after taking the illegal drug was still recovering in hospital yesterday.
The incident has upset and angered many band members, who are questioning how the girls were able to obtain the drugs.
"I wish they would bust all these fucking dealerz [sic] and put there [sic] ass in jail," Courtney Bird, Trinity's cousin, angrily wrote on a social networking Internet site.
RCMP officers were called to the small reserve around 12:45 a.m. Sunday after one of the girls stumbled into the crowded community hall, where a traditional wedding round dance was being held, and collapsed.
"When she collapsed, the wedding celebration abruptly halted, and people went into rescue mode," said Dennis Paul, a community leader. "And we then found out that there were nine [girls] altogether who had been taking the drugs."
Members of the reserve, which has 1,100 residents, gathered last night to pray and remember the two teens. The funerals have tentatively been planned for tomorrow.
Shortly after the girls were hospitalized, rumours began to circulate around the reserve that the drugs had been laced with rat poison. However, police have said tests ruled that out.
Autopsies will be conducted on both teens to determine the cause of death.
The RCMP are still investigating the incident. They are also planning to speak with local youth in the coming weeks about the dangers of using street drugs.
"With a street-level drug, you have absolutely no idea what you are taking," RCMP Corporal Wayne Oakes said.
He said drug problems aren't unique to the Paul Band First Nation. "These types of issues are present in virtually every Alberta community," he said.
March 26, 2009
Colby Cosh: Going to extremes in search of a cause
Warning: this column falls under the heading “Am I slowly going insane or is there more than meets the eye here?”
Canada’s press has been reporting this week on a heartbreaking incident that took place at the Paul First Nation 60 kilometres west of Edmonton. Several girls getting ready to attend a Sunday wedding reception took what they thought was MDMA, the popular club amphetamine known as ecstasy. Three or four of them fell ill, and two went into a coma and have since died. This is a confusing event, but the reaction has been even more confusing.
Many early news accounts uncritically described the sick girls as having fallen prey to an “overdose” of ecstasy. Now, as it happens, ecstasy “overdoses” are a lot less common than you might think. Earlier this month, a top drug-safety adviser to the U.K. government, David Nutt, caught hell for pointing out that if we redefined horseback riding as a behavioural addiction called “equasy,” any rational harm scale would find it to be far more lethal than ecstasy. Nutt pegged the number of acute harm events from ecstasy use, for the purposes of contrived controversy, at no more than 1 per 10,000 exposures.
Yet even this is probably a massive exaggeration of the true amount of harm from ecstasy as such. Exact figures are hard to derive precisely because toxic reactions to ecstasy are so rare, and the drug does not even seem to have an established LD-50 (median lethal dosage) for humans. As pharmacologist Richard Green pointed out in a 2004 article, “In the U.K., there are around 12-15 deaths a year in persons who have taken MDMA. Given the fact that around 500,000 young persons ingest the drug in a very uncontrolled way every week in this country, these figures do not indicate MDMA to be a particularly toxic compound.” (The media, he added, was responsible for “much nonsense about MDMA being presented.”)
And how many of those 12-15 deaths are actually the result of legitimate, uncomplicated overdoses, or of adverse reactions to ecstasy alone? Probably not many. A lot of “ecstasy deaths” turn out to be the result of hyperthermia and dehydration on hot, crowded dance floors. Others result from drug interactions. We might really be talking about roughly five genuine ecstasy deaths a year, against a U.K. background of about 25 million annual exposures to MDMA.
Those are long odds. Long enough to make it awfully suspicious that two girls in Western Canada should essentially drop dead at the same moment, without some common etiological element besides MDMA. Since the ill-fated girls weren’t at a dance or rave, the obvious possibility that comes to mind is some impurity or adulteration in the batch of pills they took. If so, killer drugs may be circulating in the vicinity of Edmonton.
So far, there have been no other reports of adverse reactions to ecstasy. The RCMP is on the case, but for unclear reasons, they seem to find the “crazy coincidence” theory pretty satisfying. K Division spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes said that Stollery Children’s Hospital staff found no evidence the girls had ingested anything but pure ecstasy, and he went out of his way to dismiss “rumours” that they had received a bad batch of pills. “It’s not uncommon in a tragic situation like this for rumours of that nature to arise,” he told CTV News, “because it’s so devastating, it’s so out of the norm, and they’re looking for some extreme cause to rationalize a tragedy like this.”
Well, yes. There are two dead girls who were alive last week; it is indeed natural to look for an “extreme cause.” But it seems to me that the people who wondered about rat poison were basically showing good epidemiological instincts, and it’s the RCMP’s implicit explanation for the incident that should be regarded as the weird one.
The police, in general, are not known for their scientific literacy (or consistency or honesty) when it comes to illicit drugs. Like the media, they have a known susceptibility to unfounded claims and moral panics. And they are responsible for an abundant record of reported “ecstasy overdoses” that weren’t. I am concerned that in this case, they may be accepting an account of events that fits the drug warrior’s animistic world-view — evil party drug kills innocent teenagers — but that doesn’t have much basis in fact.
It might be an idle question, were it not for the possible risk to other ecstasy users who have essentially been reassured by Cpl. Oakes that nobody’s rave needs to be postponed just because of that downer on the rez. I appeal to the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta to exercise diligence in protecting the welfare of this region’s hippies, burnouts, flakes and slackers.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 6:08 PM by NP Editor