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NUMBER 2094 OF 1995

Reasons for dispensing with the holding of an inquest

The manner and cause of Anna Wood's death is now clear to me to the standard
required by law. Because of this and as the death involves no indictable
offence against any known person, I have decided to dispense with the
holding of an inquest. This case has generated a great deal of public debate
and interest. Pronouncements have been made by a number of sources and some
of those have been found to be manifestly inaccurate. Whilst often in a case
such as this one, the public interest may dictate that an inquest be held,
in deciding to dispense with the holding of one I have taken into account
the wishes of Anna's family, and my own view that the manner an cause of
death is now clear. I feel that the public interest can best be served by
giving reasons for dispensing with an inquest and also giving in some small
detail, my conclusions as to the cause of Anna Wood's death.

It is the wish of the parents of Anna Wood that I state publicly and clearly
my findings as to the probable cause of Anna's death, so as to allay the
rumours and misconceptions which have arisen since Anna died.

Manner and cause of death

Anna Wood, a 15 year old girl presented to Royal North Shore Hospital on the
morning of 22 October, 1995 with a clinical history of respiratory arrest,
following alleged ingestion of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA \
ecstasy) late the previous evening. She had apparently remained relatively
well for some time after ingestion of the drug, and continued dancing
strenuously. She periodically ingested water, and had been vomiting before 5
am. She was apparently taken to the home of a friend and placed in bed.
Apparently there were continued episodes of dry retching, intermittent
sleep, confusion and possible convulsion-like movements. By about 10 am,
Anna had lapsed into unconsciousness at her friend's place. There was a
period of hypoxia, possibly up to 12 minutes. On arrival, ambulance staff
commenced resuscitative treatment for respiratory arrest. Anna was
transported to Royal North Shore Hospital and treatment for suspected
overdose was continued. She was quickly admitted to Intensive Care. On 23
October, 1995 there was evidence of absent cerebral blood flow, which was
confirmed the next day. "Brain death" was pronounced at 2.45 pm on 24
October, 1995.

I must stress that whilst urine analysis on admission confirmed the presence
of MDMA, no other substances were demonstrated.

Dr Paul Botterill, a Forensic Pathologist at the N.S.W. Institute of
Forensic Medicine, conducted an exhaustive post mortem. He described the
cause of Anna's death as being hypoxic encephalopathy. He reiterated in
detail in his post mortem report his opinion as to how Anna came to suffer
this cerebral oedema.

I shall quote from aspects of Dr Botterill's report:-

     "The cause of death was hypoxic encephalopathy following the
     protracted period of respiratory arrest which has followed the
     ingestion of MDMA. The precipitant event is not clearly
     established. It is not clear whether the respiratory arrest
     represented a direct toxic effect of MDMA or other unidentified
     contaminant substances (particularly in association with exertion
     and/or water ingestion), an idiosyncratic response to those
     substances or some other pathological process ... coincidentally
     associated with the substance ingestion. The possible roles of
     airway compromise prior to resuscitation and or aspiration of
     vomitus are also difficult to assess.

     Death following ingestion of MDMA is uncommon .... Some features
     in this case (the history of drug taking with protracted dancing,
     subsequent vomiting, possible convulsions and semi-comatose state)
     are consistent with the reported cases, but other features are not
     typical of the reported cases from the early 1990's. I have
     discussed this case with Dr J.A. Henry of the National Poisons
     Unit, Guy's Hospital, London, who is aware of a number of recent
     British cases with similar features. Those reported cases, and
     other very recent deaths followed ingestion of relatively small
     doses of MDMA and large quantities of water, and were associated
     with hyponatraemia (low sodium level) and water intoxication.
     Advanced hyponatraemia can be associated with hallucinations,
     inappropriate behaviour, altered temperature regulation (including
     hypothermia), seizures, coma, diabetes insipidus and respiratory
     arrest. The exact mechanism of this effect is not clear, but
     appears to involve both water intoxication and ingestion of MDMA
     .... It is conceivable that the features in this case, including
     the development of a syndrome of inappropriate ADH secretion may
     have been modified by the period of hypoxia associated with the
     respiratory arrest"

Dr Botterill was quite confident as to his findings and took a great deal of
time and care with his research into death following MDMA ingestion. This
phenomenon is quite rare in this country.

As I have indicated he spoke to Dr John Henry, a consultant Physician with
the Medical Toxicology Unit at Guy's Hospital, London.

I requested Dr Henry to carry out a review of the case. In view of the
rarity of this phenomenon, no one person can claim real expertise. However
Dr Henry has seen comparatively more cases than his colleague in Australia.
Dr Henry's review has now been completed and was forwarded to me on 30 May,

Dr Henry states:-

     "It is clear that Miss Wood had ingested ecstasy (MDMA), had been
     dancing intermittently and had drunk large amounts of fluid. Her
     illness and death bore all the hallmarks of cerebral oedema, and
     it can be concluded that she died of acute water intoxication,
     secondary to MDMA ingestion.

     Her case closely parallels a widely publicised case which occurred
     in Britain recently .... I am aware of at least two other
     fatalities. There have also been a number of non-fatal cases ....

     It may be asked why the drug is associated with the complication
     of potentially fatal cerebral oedema, and whether this
     complication should be regarded as ecstasy toxicity or acute water
     intoxication ....

     Ecstasy is a drug which combines most of the pharmacological
     effects of amphetamine sulphate with an alert euphoric empathic
     state in which all inputs are heightened, giving it the
     combination of pharmacological properties which have lead to its
     widespread use as a dance drug. Prolonged dancing has led to a
     number of deaths due to hyperthermic collapse. People continue
     dancing for many hours without replacing fluids (because of the
     appetite suppressant effects of amphetamines) and this led to the
     harm limitation messages that it would be good to drink fluids if
     one was using ecstasy as a dance drug. This information may well
     have saved a number of lives, but it may also have induced many
     people to drink large amounts of fluids without any understanding
     of the reasons for so doing. As long as one is replacing lost
     fluid, there is no problem. However if excess fluid is drunk,
     there is a potential problem, because in a proportion of people
     the drug reduces the kidney's ability to rid the body of excess
     water (the so-called syndrome of inappropriate anti-diuretic
     hormone secretion - SIADH). Thus, drinking several litres of water
     over and above the body's requirements over a short space of time,
     may cause hyponatraemia due to dilution of the body's sodium
     content, and cerebral oedema (swelling of the brain) due to this
     dilution. This swelling can force pressure on vital centres at the
     base of the brain, which in extreme cases may cause breathing to

     Some people may wish to label this death as a case of water
     intoxication in an attempt to exonerate the drug as a cause of
     death. However, although water intoxication was the mode of death
     the excess fluid ingestion would not have occurred if the drug had
     not been taken, and secondly the drug aggravates excessive water
     ingestion by causing SIADH.

     I thus conclude that the cause of death must be given as ecstasy


It can be seen, therefore, that Drs Botterill and Henry have jointly reached
the same conclusion as to the cause of Anna Wood's death. In effect, Dr
Henry discards several possible scenarios postulated by Dr Botterill and
agrees with his probable cause.

The message given by Drs Botterill and Henry, particularly as to the
non-exoneration of MDMA as a cause of death is a sobering one, and one which
ought to be noted by all those who use this drug, particularly in a dance
party setting.

Dr Henry concludes his opinion by saying this:-

     "The Department of Health in this country has included in its
     publicity the words 'water is an antidote to dancing, not an
     antidote to ecstasy.' People are recommended now to drink one pint
     of water or isotonic fluid per hour if they are dancing vigorously
     and not more than one cup of fluid per hour if they are not
     dancing vigorously. This modification of the original harm
     limitation message may help to avoid the two potentially fatal
     extremes of hyperthermic collapse (heatstroke) and hyponatraemia
     (water intoxication)."

It is not unlikely that a tragedy such as this will occur again in N.S.W. In
an effort to reduce the chance of that happening, I propose to recommend
that the N.S.W. Health Department publishes a pamphlet, which will have the
twofold effect of educating those who use the drug as to its dangers, and
also educating the community as to the appropriate care of the individual
who becomes ill following ingestion of the drug. I would like to see the
pamphlet disseminated as widely as possible.

The Department deferred the publishing of such a pamphlet until this case is
finalised. The pamphlet's message will have to be carefully considered and

I thank those who have assisted me in finalising this matter, particularly
Drs Paul Botterill and John Henry. To the members of Anna's family I extend
my sympathy on their loss.


That Anna Victoria WOOD died on 24 October, 1995 at Royal North Shore
Hospital, St. Leonards, N.S.W. of hypoxic encephalopathy, following acute
water intoxication secondary to ingestion of MDMA


That the Health Department of N.S.W. publishes a pamphlet aimed at those who
use MDMA (ecstasy), which clearly indicates the possible consequences of
MDMA ingestion, and the action to be taken by any person who becomes ill or
who may be with a person who becomes ill following ingestion of MDMA.

(John Abernathy)
N.S.W. Deputy State Coroner,
Glebe, N.S.W.

Note: these footnotes do not form part of the original report; they have
been added where necessary to explain medical terms with which laypersons
may not be familiar.

  1. hypoxia: a state where inadequate amounts of oxygen are available.
  2. hypoxic encephalopathy: lack of oxygen supply to the brain.
  3. oedema: effusion of fluid into the interstices of cells or body
  4. aspiration: breathing in.
  5. ADH: anti-diuretic hormone.
  6. pint: about 600 ml.

[ this file found at: ]


The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Australia - Wednesday, June 19, 1996.
"Hug Ends Anguish for Woods" - by Brad Clifton

It was a simple gesture that yesterday marked the end of months of anguish
for the family of ecstasy victim Anna Wood.  As he concluded his findings
into her daughter's death, NSW Deputy State Coroner John Abernethy left
his bench, approached Angela Wood and hugged her.  The spontaneous embrace
represented a union of hope, that through his official recommendations on
drug education and her continued fight in Anna's memory, the pair could
jointly prevent a repeat of the tragedy. 

Mr. Abernethy, who has formed a close friendship with the family since the
15-year-old's death, yesterday officially concluded she died from a lethal
combination of water and ecstasy, which she consumed at a dance party last
October.  He also outlined his steps to ensure the community was better
educated about the potentially fatal qualities of the drug. 

"It is not unlikely that a tragedy such as this will occur again in NSW",
Mr. Abernethy said.  "In an effort to reduce the chance of that happening,
I propose to recommend that the NSW Health Department publishes a
pamphlet, which will have the twofold ef fect of educating those who use
the drug as to its dangers, and also educating the community as to the
appropriate care of the individual who becomes ill following ingestion of
the drug.  I would like to see the pamphlet disseminated as widely as

Mr. Abernethy dispensed with holding an inquest into Anna's death after
consulting with her parents, but said the family wished him to publicly
state his findings to "allay the rumours and misconceptions which have
arisen since Anna died". 

He enlisted the aid of consultant physician Dr. John Henry, from London's
Guy Hospital, who has studied similar recent deaths in Britain.  Dr. Henry
reported Anna died from the combined effects of water and ecstasy. 

"It is clear that Miss Wood had ingested ecstasy... and had drunk large
amounts of fluid," he said. "Her illness and death bore all the hallmarks
of cerebral oedema [brain swelling], and it can be concluded that she died
of acute water intoxication, secondary to [ecstasy] ingestion." 

In simple terms, Dr. Henry said the drug Anna had taken enabled her to
dance with a heightened level of energy.  This extended physical activity
then made her thirsty and she drank more water.  But the drug had caused a
reaction in her body known as SIADH - the Syndrome of Inappropriate
Anti-Diuretic Hormone secretion.  The condition reduced the ability of
Anna's kidneys to rid her body of the excess water, leading to
hyponatraemia - also known as "water intoxication" - which in turn led to
brain swelling and death. 

Mr. Abernethy said Dr. Henry's conclusions should serve as a warning to
those considering experimenting with ecstasy. 

"The message given by [Dr. Henry], particularly as to the non-exoneration
of [ecstasy] as a cause of death, is a sobering one, and one which ought
to be noted by all those who use this drug, especially in the dance party
setting," he said. 

Outside the court, Mr and Mrs Wood said they were relieved at the
coroner's decision. 


See also:

(The Anna Wood Drug and Alcohol Education Project - includes Anna's photo)


The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Australia - Friday, May 24, 1996.
"The Ecstasy and the Agony" - Mike Gibson

For all the kids in this city who are going out for a rave this weekend,
this is how 15-year-old Anna Wood died last October.  She took an ecstasy
tablet, and went dancing with friends at a club in George Street,

I could try putting what happened in my own words.  A traditional review. 
But nothing could be more graphic than the words of journalist Bronwyn
Donaghy.  Bronwyn has written a book called Anna's Story.  It will be
published next week. 

"I'm having the best night of my life," repeated Anna to her friends. 
"I'm having the best night of my life." 

Alexia thinks it was about 5AM when she noticed Anna sitting on a boy's
lap at the edge of the dance floor.  "I went up to talk to her and I could
see from her face that she was really drugged out.  Her face was
everywhere, her eyes were rolling around in her head, she was sweating. 
Her jaw was wobbling.  She was clenching and unclenching her fists.  Her
facial movements kept changing." 

Anna's face was pale and waxy.  She vomited, splashing the boy she was
with and the other people beside him.  Horrified, she leapt up and ran
towards the toilets. 

"I ran in after her," said Chloe.  "I got there just as she collapsed.  I
caught her and sat her down on the floor, so she could heave into the
toilet bowl.  I started to scream." 

It was a 45-minute drive to Belrose.  "On the way, she said she couldn't
feel her lips or her legs," said Chloe.  "I asked her if she thought we
should take her to see a doctor, but she didn't answer." 

Chloe and Jeff pushed Anna through the front door and up the stairs to
Chloe's bedroom.  She vomited on the way. 

"We left her in bed and tried to clean up the mess on the stairs," said
Chloe.  "Then we heard this big thump and went up to see what happened. 
She was lying against the door and we couldn't get it open.  I could hear
her vomiting.  I finally pushed the door open far enough to get in.  She'd
thrown up on the floor.  I put her back into bed.  She wasn't talking any
more, just retching and throwing up and rolling around on the bed." 

"We weren't scared for ourselves," said Alexia, sounding terrified.  "We
were very scared for Anna.  We knew that if Anna's Mum found out what
she'd been doing that she would never let us see Anna again." 

So they woke up Chloe's mother, Judy, and said Anna was sick in Chloe's
bed and that someone had spiked her Coke, possibly with drugs. 

"She was curled up in a ball on the bed, facing the doorway," said Judy,
"covered in vomit." 

"You'd better come," said Judy to Angela, Anna's mother. "Anna's ill. 
There's something wrong." 

It was 10AM.  Angela swept through the front door and upstairs into the
bedroom where her daughter lay.  She saw a clammy, cramping waif, sweating
and smelling of sick, delirious and out of control.  Her hair was matted
with vomit and she had wet herself - her jeans were stained with urine. 

"What have you done to her?" screamed Angela.  "Where have you been?" 

"It was a drink she had at the Go-Kart club," they gabbled.  "Someone must
have spiked her drink." 

Anna's father Tony was attempting to keep Anna conscious.  "Don't die,
darling," he whispered.  "You have to keep breathing". 

In the distance, they all heard the siren.  Anna was taken to the Royal
North Shore hospital. 

"They told us then they were pretty sure that her brain was gone," said
Tony.  "They had a little cemetery at the hospital.  Angie was there,
crying and screaming." 

Angela watched the people come and say goodbye to her daughter in a haze
of grief and exhaustion.  Tears ran down their faces.  How could this
still, white child be that lovely, bouncing talking, lively, vividly
smiling Anna Wood? 

On Tuesday afternoon Angela and Tony agreed that their daughter's vital
organs - heart, lungs, pancreas, liver and kidneys were to be removed for
donation.  At 8PM the family left the intensive care unit after Anna had
been wheeled away for the final oper ation.  In the early hours of the
morning they saw their daughter again, but she was no longer the Anna they

"She lay there like stone," said her father.  Anna Wood, a girl as golden
and warm as a sun-ripened peach, was cold. 

Ecstasy is a drug which causes stimulation and hallucination to a highly
abnormal degree.  Its real name is MDMA - the name of the chemical from
which it is made. 

There is no doubt that the poisonous chemical, MDMA, would have changed
the way messages were carried to and from Anna's brain.  Anna's brain
swelled so much that the lower end or stem was forced down through the
hole in the base of the skull where the spinal cord joins the brain. 
This hole is called the foramen magnum. 

[Ed Note:  If MDMA is a "poisonous chemical" then so is Aspirin -- lamont]

The brain stem contains the body's respiratory drive.  Once it was pushed
down through the foramen magnum, the mechanics of respiration would have
stopped working.  Normal breathing would have stopped. 

"Anna didn't do drugs like we did," said Chloe.  "She smoked some pot over
the last nine months or so but apart from that she might have had one
trip, at a fireworks night - she didn't like it - and I think she tried
speed once.  She took half an ecstasy tablet about a month before she
passed away.  We were at a local rave party.  Her parents didn't know and
it wasn't far from home so she would have just said she was staying with
one of us for the night". 

Anna Wood was a lovely girl.  Everybody said so.  She died on October 24, 1995.