Investigators are probing whether water intoxication contributed to last week's drug-related death of a 16-year-old former Monarch High School student.
Brittney Chambers was removed from life support Friday, six days after swallowing a green clover-leaf shaped pill thought to be the drug ecstasy and slipping into a coma.
Chambers' family and friends have planned a memorial service today to say goodbye to a person described as an average 'American girl' who had come back to Colorado from Arizona to celebrate her birthday and was looking forward to driving her first car. Her death has raised many questions about the popular designer drug many previously considered 'safe.'
In at least two well-documented death investigations of ecstasy users, excessive water intake was considered to be a contributing factor.
In extreme cases, excessive intake of water can cause water intoxication or hyponatremia, abnormally low concentrations of sodium ions in the blood, which can result in brain swelling.
Chambers' brother said in a news conference on Thursday that she drank 'three gallons' of water.
Although detectives do not know how much water Chambers drank, Sheriff George Epp said witnesses confirmed she was drinking a lot of water and that it was among several issues being looked at early in the investigation.
Other factors being examined include whether the pill was tainted or if she had alcohol, anti-depressants or any other chemicals in her system that could have caused an adverse reaction.
Both Epp and Boulder County John Meyer are awaiting toxicology and blood test results before commenting further on those issues. Results are expected to take several days and may not be available this week. Meyer said he still needs to review medical records and witness statements.
'I will discuss (water intoxication) at a time when I have as much information as I think I need,' Meyer said. 'I am not ruling that out by any means, but we are still looking into this.'
The coroner's office released its initial findings Friday stating that Chambers' death is consistent with complications of amphetamine-class drugs. But further tests are necessary to determine whether the amphetamines in her system were in fact methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA or ecstasy.
Emanuel Sferios, founder of DanceSafe, a national drug awareness organization, said ecstasy users in some occasions use excessive amounts of water because health officials warn them to be careful not to get dehydrated when taking the drug.
He points to the 1995 death of 18-year-old Leah Betts of England who became a 'poster child in the anti-ecstasy crusade.'
He said Betts thought by drinking water she could bring herself down, but she drank too much and her brain swelled.
A similar case was reported in Australia, although the findings produced much controversy.
Some ecstasy users drink Gatorade instead of water because it is said to restore electrolytes.
The coroner's office said that ecstasy's effects, like those of most other drugs, are unpredictable.
Meyer said there are cases, though rare, in which the drug has lead to increase of blood pressure, irregularities of the heart, seizures, kidney failure and blood clots.
Travis Schuerger, 20, of Thornton and Rebecca Sheffield, 18, a senior at Monarch, the two adults arrested for supplying the drugs taken by Chambers and three friends, are scheduled to be charged Thursday. Three juveniles arrested in connection with buying the drugs and a fourth suspected of arranging the deal are scheduled for a first court appearance on Friday.
Contact Christopher Anderson at (303) 473-1355 or andersonc@ thedailycamera.com.
February 6, 2001