Huntingdon man died after massive overdose

THE mother of a Huntingdon man hooked on liquid ecstasy has called for more awareness of the drug, after her son killed himself while trying to beat his addiction.

Seth Saunders, 24, died on May 5, after taking a massive overdose of the Class C drug GBL (gamma butyrolactone), also known as liquid ecstasy.

An inquest into his death, held in Huntingdon on Thursday (September 29), heard that despite trying to seek help for his dependence, Mr Saunders struggled to find a doctor or counsellor with enough knowledge of GBL to provide effective support.

Deputy coroner for South and West Cambridgeshire Belinda Cheney heard that Mr Saunders had become addicted to the drug while studying at Brighton University.

By his third year of studies, Mr Saunders was struggling with a crippling addiction and returned to his mother’s home in West Street, Huntingdon, where he later died.

His mother, Sarane O’Connor, told the inquest that before his death she was concerned that her son was suffering from depression but he repeatedly refused to seek help. At Easter she became so concerned about her son that she took him to the out-of-hours GP service at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, where he was prescribed with anti-depressant medication and strongly urged to register with a local GP so that he could receive further help.

Mrs O’Connor described witnessing her son’s paranoia and anxiety and said at times he was manic and even psychotic but put his behaviour down to depression and said she was unaware that he was using illegal substances in her home.

Most Read

She said that he went to addiction counsellors in 2009 but instead of receiving help and guidance from the service he and his girlfriend found themselves having to explain what GBL was.

She said: “He told me that in 2009 he and his girlfriend had gone to the addiction service but they had to tell them about GBL, rather than them being able to help. Because he was very handsome and well dressed and they were used to dealing with down-and-outs, they looked at Seth and thought ‘you haven’t got any problems’.”

Mrs O’Connor found her son unresponsive in bed when she returned home from a night shift at 2pm.

She said: “He chose to end his life when he knew he would not be found for many hours.

“I want to raise awareness of the dangers of this drug. I want other families to be spared the pain and suffering we are going through.”

She found a suicide note in his briefcase the day after his death. She told Mrs Cheney: “He intended to take his life, absolutely.

“I really would like to think that there will be more help for these kids [addicted to GBL] now, these kids die.”

Mrs Cheney also heard from Mr Saunders’ brother and sister, Eli and Gaia, who both helped to look after him while he tried to quit GBL. Gaia described her brother as intelligent but admitted that he had been difficult to cope with.

Eli said of his brother’s battle give up GBL: “He really, really struggled. It was incredibly hard for him.

“He couldn’t find anyone to help him. There really was no information about GBL and the doctors didn’t even know what it was.”

Gaia added: “I was shocked by what he did, but it wasn’t a huge surprise.”

Mrs Cheney then heard evidence from pathologist Dr Martin Goddard, who carried out a post mortem examination on Mr Saunders’ body. Initial tests did not reveal a cause of death and it was only when Mrs O’Connor got in touch with the coroner’s office to inform them of her son’s addiction that further tests identified the cause of death.

Dr Goddard explained to Mrs Cheney that after the drug GBL has been taken, it converts to another substance, GHB (gamma hydroxybutric acid) in the body. This substance is found naturally in the body – despite being a Class C drug. Normal levels are around 30-50mg per litre of blood, with the fatal limit at about 100mg per litre. Levels in Mr Saunders’ blood were found to be 832mg per litre of blood.

Dr Goddard said: “He was clearly well-aware of the drug. He must have taken an extremely high amount.”

GBL, which until 2009 was a so-called “legal high”, is now a Class C drug. It is used industrially in the manufacture of plastics and paints and can be bought legally for these purposes.

Recreationally, the drug comes in liquid form, with users paying on average �15 for 30ml – equivalent to six to 15 doses. After Mr Saunders’ death, Eli discovered a half-empty, one-litre bottle of GBL under his brother’s bed – the missing contents representing close to 200 doses.

Dr Goddard said that addiction to GBL is recognised and people develop a psychological dependence on it.

He said it has profound side-effects on withdrawal, which are quite hard to manage, and added: “Awareness of the drug in the medical community is quite limited, unless you are specifically working in the addiction centres.”

Mrs Cheney accepted Dr Goddard’s finding that the cause of death was GHB toxicity. She recorded a verdict that Mr Saunders took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.

She thanked Mrs O’Connor for her co-operation during the months leading up to the inquest and said: “Without your intervention we would never have found the GHB.”