Grieving parents warn about illegal drugs at 16-year-old son's inquest

The devastated parents of a teenager who died after taking a deadly synthetic drug, which he thought was cocaine, have pleaded with young people to stay away from drugs.

Grieving parents warn about illegal drugs at 16-year-old son's inquest

Michael Cornacchia’s parents, Roberto Cornacchia and Joan Deasy, were speaking after an inquest yesterday recorded a verdict of misadventure. It was confirmed that their 16-year-old son died after ingesting the illicit psychoactive drug U47700 (known as U4) in association with ecstasy.

Manufactured by backstreet chemists and imported mainly from China, U4 is up to eight times more potent than morphine.

Cork City Coroner’s Court heard how Michael and a friend bought what they thought was cocaine from another teenager on the northside of the city in the early hours of January 16, 2017. They each snorted a quantity of the drug. Michael was dead within hours.

Fighting back tears afterwards, Ms Deasy urged teenagers: “Never take any synthetic drugs. That’s all I have to say.”

Joan Deasy found her 16-year-old son, Michael Cornacchia, slumped in a chair in their Cork home. Picture: Dan Linehan
Joan Deasy found her 16-year-old son, Michael Cornacchia, slumped in a chair in their Cork home. Picture: Dan Linehan

His father, Roberto, said: “Forget about drugs. Play sport. Live. Just play sport. I was always against even the headshops, and all that. I thought: ‘How is this possible, how is this allowed?’

“A lot of the drugs that have killed, or kill these days, are actually legally sold, and produced, as far as I know, in places like China. There should be some control.”

Mr Cornacchia described his son as a “great guy”, with huge potential.

“He was going through his teenage ups-and-downs,” he said. “I’m sure he was going to be a great person, a great soccer player. He had a great life in front of him.”

Roberto Cornacchia at the inquest into the death of his 16-year-old son, Michael. Picture: Dan Linehan
Roberto Cornacchia at the inquest into the death of his 16-year-old son, Michael. Picture: Dan Linehan

Michael was found slumped in a chair by his mother at home in Deerpark on the south side of Cork City, at around 10am on Monday, January 16, 2017.

She raised the alarm and emergency services rushed to the house, but Michael, a talented soccer player, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Gardaí found a quantity of white powder in the house and launched an investigation. A friend of Michael’s, who had been with him the night before, co-operated fully with the probe.

This friend told the inquest of how they both used Facebook’s Messenger service the previous night to text a contact, and arranged to go halves on €200 worth of cocaine.

Michael’s friend, who said they had bought cocaine from this source before, walked with Michael from his house to a park in Gurranabraher, on the northside of the city, at around 11.30pm, where they were told to whistle once they arrived.

He said a dealer arrived seconds later with a digital weighing scales and measured an eighth of an ounce of a white powder, around 3.5g, into a small, sealable plastic bag.

They were told they didn’t have to pay until Wednesday.

Michael’s friend told gardaí he wanted to help their investigation, but did not want to give them the name of the person who sold the drug.

“I am afraid of my life of him,” he said. “I would like to give you his name, for the investigation, but am too afraid.”

The friend said Michael dipped a key into the bag and snorted about four ‘keys’ of the powder as they walked home.

He said Michael had taken cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine before, but that their reaction to this drug was different.

He said Michael told him he was out of his head, was wobbling on his feet, and was sweating. He said he also snorted a quantity of the powder and, at one stage, could hardly walk.

They arrived at Michael’s house at 3am, where the friend said they went into the front room and felt dizzy, were sweating, and were struggling to keep their eyes open.

He said he remembered Michael being awake, but can’t remember anything else, until Ms Deasy tried to wake her son at around 10am the next morning.

Ms Deasy said she woke around 7.30am and got her other two children ready for school — leaving in a taxi with them at around 8.40am — but didn’t check the front room until she got home at 10am.

She said she found her son sitting on the couch, tilted towards the door, with his friend asleep in an armchair, and knew immediately that something was wrong.

Paramedics arrived within minutes, but said it was obvious Michael was beyond resuscitation. he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Assistant State pathologist Margot Bolster, said an autopsy confirmed the cause of death was ingestion of U4 and ecstasy, which combined to suppress Michael’s central nervous system and his breathing.

Dr Bolster said that, in 11 previous fatal cases involving U4, victims had levels ranging from 14 to 490 nanograms per mil in their system. Michael had 650 nanograms per mil, she said.

Detective Garda Darragh Murray, who led the investigation, said an analysis of a white powder found in the room where the boys had slept confirmed it was U47700 — a substance Dr Bolster said was first synthesised by former pharmaceutical firm UpJohn in the 1970s as an alternative to morphine.

UpJohn’s research was abandoned when U47700 was found to be as addictive as morphine, and the substance remained classed as a research chemical.

Det Gda Murray said further analysis by Andrew Harkin, an associate professor of pharmacology at Trinity College Dublin and an expert in this field, confirmed the powder was a psychoactive substance under the terms of the Psychoactive Substances Act, 2010.

He said Michael and his friend believed they were buying cocaine, but instead got a substance that is often imported in small quantities, through the postal system, from manufacturing sites in Asia.

He said gardaí could not identify the source of the U4 involved in this case. He confirmed, however, that there have been no further seizures of U4 in the Cork area, since Michael’s death.

Ms Deasy told the coroner that Michael had received speech and language supports while in Glasheen NS, but had left Deerpark CBS after second year because he didn’t get the supports he needed there.

She said Michael passed his Junior Cert, while a student at St Kevin’s, a school for children who find it difficult in mainstream education, and said he had been attending the Fr Rock project on Fr Mathew St, since just before Christmas.

She said he loved soccer, and played mostly with Pearse Celtic, but had been brought home by gardaí once or twice for being drunk.

She said she would often check his pockets and see messages on his mobile phone, but there was never any indication that he was taking drugs.

Coroner Philip Comyn told Ms Deasy she had done all she could as a mother to protect her son, and assured her that Michael would not have suffered in the moments before his death.

Mr Comyn said buying illicit drugs was like playing Russian roulette with your life, and that this tragic case highlighted the need for more drugs awareness programmes in secondary schools.

“There is no quality control in these drugs,” he said.

“The people who make these drugs have no interest in their consumers. They are prepared to put anything into them to maximise their profits.

“That’s all they are interested in.”

Teen sentenced

The teenager who sold the killer drug U4 in this tragic case was in January sentenced to a year of detention and supervision.

Arising out of the Garda investigation into Michael Cornacchia’s death, a

17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to two charges, namely that, on January 16, 2017, at a location in Cork City, he a psychoactive substance, namely U47700, had for sale or supply to another person, knowing or being reckless as to whether that substance was being acquired for human consumption.

He was also charged with possessing cocaine contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The teenager told gardaí that he believed what he had sold was cocaine, and that he was not aware of it being anything else.

He was due to be sentenced last November but the matter was adjourned when it emerged he had told a probation officer that he felt the sale of the drug did not warrant a jail sentence.

Judge Gerard O’Brien imposed a 12-month detention and supervision order on him in January, backdated to September 5, 2017, when he was first remanded in detention in the case.

When asked yesterday if he thinks his family got justice, Michael’s father, Roberto, said: “I don’t think so.”

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