'Spiked drink' boy shows signs of improvement

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The Independent Online

A teenager whose lemonade was apparently "spiked" after he warned friends of the dangers of drugs was showing some signs of improvement in a psychiatric hospital yesterday.

But a consultant who specialises in the effects of drugs said that some patients suffered "prolonged disturbance" for up to a year after taking hallucinogenic drugs.

James Fountain, 16, remained in a semi-conscious state at St Luke's Psychiatric Hospital, in Middlesbrough, nine days after he inadvertently took what was believed to be a derivative of Ecstasy, LSD or amphetamines at a party to celebrate the end of mock GCSE exams.

He was rushed to Hartlepool and Peterlee Hospital after he became disturbed and incoherent at his home.

James's condition was yesterday described as "comfortable", but there was concern that his continuing semi- conscious state may limit his chances of recovery.

"He's still very unwell. He's rambling and disorientated. He's been through a very traumatic situation," a spokesman for St Luke's Hospital said.

James had recently been moved from an acute to a psychiatric unit where doctors were awaiting test results to determine which drugs he had ingested.

The spokesman added: "Whatever it is it has had an extreme effect on him. There's been a slight improvement but it's too early to say. He could be very well one minute and quite unwell the next."

Meanwhile, Professor Griffith Edwards, of the Institute of Psychiatry, who is an expert on the effects of drugs, said yesterday that "flashbacks" caused by hallucinogenic drugs could last for a year after they were taken.

"It is particularly dangerous to spike people's drinks because they have no capacity to interpret the experience. They can't say, 'Oh, I'm just having a bad trip'," Professor Edwards said. "I've seen it happen to young people before. It's a vicious, nasty thing."

He added that unconsciousness was "very worrying" as it could mean the brain function had been impaired. Neither Hartlepool nor St Luke's Hospital would confirm reports that James had initially lost consciousness.

The keen rugby player became ill after he and friends attended the party at Hardwick Hall Hotel at Sedgefield, County Durham. He was well known among classmates for his opposition to drugs and police suspect the substance was slipped into his drink after an argument at the party.

His father, Christopher, a solicitor, and his mother, Barbara, said they dropped James off at the hotel "for an evening of innocent and straightforward enjoyment" and were "incensed" at what happened to him.

Detective Chief Inspector Barry Peart, who is heading the investigation, said: "James found drugs abhorrent and would say so.

"We know he had an argument with several people about taking drugs in the course of the party. It's highly probable that because of this confrontation his drink was spiked with an unknown substance."

Police arrested three 16-year-olds and three men at Hardwick Hall last Friday night. They have been released on police bail until next month.