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Teenager Hopes Her Sister’s Ecstasy Death Can Educate Other Teens

on Tuesday, 10 April 2012. Posted in Voices in Recovery, Ecstasy

Shawna McCormick and her family were dragged from bed with the dreaded call a night last December, as her sister’s panicked friends told them to come right away.  According to, Cheryl McCormick, 17, had taken a dose of ecstasy at a sleepover, and she was not okay.  Shawna rushed out the door with her mother, thinking their close sister bond could enable her to help calm Cheryl down.

The minute Shawna entered the house, she saw her sister sprawled out, unconscious on the floor.  Shawna knew they could not help.   Her fear mounted, as she noticed her sister’s jaw clenched so tight that she didn’t think anyone would be able to get it open if Cheryl vomited.  The 17-year-old was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.  She was hooked up to life support.  Each change in Cheryl’s condition led to a roller coaster ride of hope and despair.  Two days later, while the family was in the room, they could not find Cheryl’s pulse.  They watched as her heart-rate dropped, and the life support machines shut down.

The following day Shawna got a tattoo for her sister, with the words, “Forever in my heart, my guardian angel.”  In the spirit of that memorial, the McCormick’s hope Cheryl’s memory can serve to protect others.  Shawna has begun speaking publicly about the danger of ecstasy, especially in light of a string of reports involving PMMA-tainted ecstasy in Canada.  She is also working on a video with local police, that will educate students of these dangers.

The ecstasy Cheryl consumed was tainted with PMMA.  Shawna warns that even if the ecstasy does not contain PMMA, it could contain other harmful toxins, such as “rat poison.”  She wants teenagers to stop thinking of ecstasy as a fun, harmless drug.  Shawna admits, “I did not know how dangerous ecstasy was until Cheryl passed away.”

Shawna warns parents that this can happen to anyone, insisting that her sister was not a “bad kid.”  Cheryl held down two jobs, played rugby, and had dreams of college.  Her sister had plans to become a nurse, as she looked forward to her high school graduation.

Shawna smiles at a recent news story.  One young man took a dose of ecstasy at his home, and he quickly realized something was wrong.  He had seen Cheryl’s story, which Shawna had been re-telling throughout the community in hopes to educate people of this potentially serious threat.  The young man immediately told his parents that he had taken the ecstasy and knew he was in trouble.  They rushed him to the hospital, where he collapsed.  This young man lived.  He got to the hospital in time to be treated, and he thanks Shawna for that.  He had heard about the PMMA-tainted ecstasy and even claimed that he had joked about it with his friends.  Hearing Cheryl’s story was not enough to keep this young man from taking it in the first place, but he does credit her memory for saving his life.  Shawna said, “It makes (the grief) worthwhile to spread the message.  If it can save one life, we are doing our job.”

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