Parents may cut ecstasy girl's life-support

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The Independent Online
IAN MacKINNON and JASON BENNETTO

The parents of an 18-year-old girl who is in a coma after taking ecstasy were in discussion with doctors last night over whether to to switch off her life-support machine.

The prospects of Leah Betts surviving were said to be "very, very bleak" following her collapse after taking the tablet on Saturday night during her 18th birthday party at her home.

Doctors at the Broomfield Hospital, in Chelmsford, Essex, where she is being treated, sent samples to counterparts at Guy's in London to try to discover what caused Leah's violent reaction.

Police were still hunting the main supplier fearing a contaminated batch of the drug, but released four students - two men, two women - on bail.

Leah, studying for A-levels at Basildon College, Essex, bought the pounds 10 tablets in the town on Saturday.

Her parents, who both do work as drugs advisers, had thrown a party for her birthday at their home in Latchingdon, near Maldon, Essex, but were there to ensure there was no trouble or drug-taking.

Leah's collapsed just after midnight shortly after taking the pill - which bore an imprint of an apple - and was resuscitated by her step- mother, a nurse, until paramedics arrived.

Yesterday, Dr John Durkan, a consultant anaesthetist, said the longer her condition remained the same the less likely were her chances of recovering. "There is a significant chance she will not survive. There is no real improvement since she came in," he said.

Her father, Paul Betts, 49, a former police inspector in the drugs squad who now lectures in schools, said he was still trying to come to terms with what had happened.

"I have got anger, hate, and I have got love for my daughter," he said. "I have got anger for the people who bought the drugs and hate for the bastard who supplied them," he said.

Police in Essex offered an amnesty to other teenagers who may have bought the same drugs in the hope that it would lead to the supplier.

However, Detective Chief Inspector Brian Storey said that a friend of Leah's, also 18, had taken a pill bought at the same time and had not shown any reaction.

Up to a million people are estimated to take ecstasy every week, but the danger the tablets pose is still hotly contested.

Of the more than 50 recorded deaths blamed on the drug the majority of fatalities were due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. The drug allows party-goers to dance for hours.

Still in dispute is whether adulterated ecstasy is responsible for the rest of the deaths or if it is a rare reaction to the pure form of the drug, MDMA. Dealers use substances, including amphetamine and brick dust, to "pad out" ecstasy.

An inquest tomorrow into the death in Blackpool in September of Daniel Ashton, 17, is expected to hear that he died from either a bad reaction to the ecstasy or an overdose of amphetamine.

Leading article, page 16

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