A YOUNG mother died weeks after giving birth after taking the party drug GHB.

Shannon Cunningham, 24, was found unconscious in bed at her home in Clarendon Road, Hove, by her partner Alex Holgrem.

She had given birth to a baby boy – who had been taken into local authority care – five weeks earlier.

An inquest into her death at Brighton Coroners’ Court on Monday heard that Shannon, who had a history of mental health and substance misuse problems, had been “showing signs of emotional intensity given the recent birth and having her son removed”.

Standard toxicology tests showed alcohol and prescription drugs in her system and further tests had to be carried out to reveal she had taken a fatal dose of gamma hydroxybutyrate (known as GHB) or gamma-butyrolactone (known as GBL, a similar chemical which converts into GHB in the body).

However the inquest could not conclude whether Shannon intended to take her own life or died from an accidental overdose.

Prior to being found temporary housing by the council, Shannon had been homeless in Brighton for a number of years, sleeping in a tent on the seafront, and she was regularly seen outside the Co-op in Western Road.

Her partner Alex woke at about 5am on July 18 to find her unresponsive. He called 999 and told paramedics they had been drinking and taking GHB the night before, but Shannon could not be resuscitated.

The words “I love u” were scrawled in biro in the inside of her left forearm.

Pathologist Catherine Guy told the inquest that toxicology tests showed she had some alcohol and prescription drugs in her blood but not enough to kill her.

Further tests had to be carried out to look for GHB and GBL, which came back positive.

Dr Guy said: “The concentration of GHB could have caused her death from GHB or GBL toxicity even in a regular user.

“[Even without the presence of alcohol or prescription drugs] such concentration of GHB or GBL could have caused death in isolation.”

She added that the cause of Shannon’s death could have been contributed to by the presence of alcohol and benzodiazepine.

Shannon was being seen by perinatal mental health services during her pregnancy and after the birth of her son.

Perinatal mental health nurse Nicole Eaton told the inquest that Shannon had been preparing for the baby to be adopted and was being supported by her partner.

She told the inquest that she had seen Shannon at 27 weeks pregnant and she had “appeared substance affected”.

She said: “Her boyfriend told me they had both drunk that day.

“She was 27 weeks pregnant and in temporary accommodation.

“Her substance misuse was ongoing.”

Sarah Lawson, lead nurse at Mill View hospital in Hove, also treated Shannon on an outpatient basis.

She said Shannon had told her she had been abused from a young age and placed in foster care at the age of five. After sleeping rough in London she served two short prison sentences at HMP Holloway before moving to Brighton in August 2018.

She told the inquest: “Shannon experienced suicidal thoughts but found her pregnancy and partner supportive factors.”

Describing a meeting with Shannon about a month before her death, Ms Lawson said: “She was suffering from an emotional intensity having recently given birth and having her son removed.

“At the time I didn’t consider her an active risk of suicide.”

After their last meeting on June 26, she said: “We had a conversation in the corridor and she said she enjoyed taking GHB. I warned her about taking it with alcohol because of the risk of overdose. “

Recording a narrative verdict Brighton and Hove assistant coroner Catharine Palmer said: “Shannon had problems with her health, both mental and physical, for a number of years and she lived a chaotic lifestyle.

“Shannon had problems with drugs and alcohol. She had seen mental health professionals and had been warned about the effects.

She would have known the risks she was taking.

“She had spoken to healthcare professionals about suicide in the past.

“She had a long history of mental health problems and drug and alcohol-related issues, including taking GHB. Blood tests showed she had fatal levels of GHB/GBL in her blood. It has not been possible to determine whether she took her own life or whether it was an accidental overdose.”

The Argus:

The little-known party drug claiming lives

GHB is a little known party drug that can kill even in tiny doses.

Also known as G, gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) become popular on the clubbing scene and was widely used at chem sex parties, where people use chemicals and drugs and have sex. But its dangers are virtually unheard of.

There is only a tiny difference between safe and lethal doses.

The Argus:

Padraig Bloor, from Eastbourne, suffered a cardiac arrest after taking GHB at a party with friends in Brighton in March 2018. He was 21.

Its precursor drug gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) turns to GHB in the body but even smaller doses can be fatal. GBL claimed the life of University of Sussex medical student Hester Stewart in 2009. She was also 21.

The Argus:

Her parents led a campaign to change the law, making it now an illegal substance.

Despite being a classified substance, GHL and GBL can be easily bought online and is often offered for sale on dating sites. The law considers it a class C substance – ranked alongside steroids –and legally considered less harmful than cannabis.

The most recent figures show there were 27 deaths linked to the drugs across the country in 2018 – however it is not ordinarily covered by standard toxicology tests.

Shannon’s blood had to be sent for further testing to find it.

Detective Sergeant Duncan Lloyd, who investigated Shannon’s death, told her inquest that the drug was easily available on the street in Brighton and Hove.

“GHB is illegal but very easy to come by. I have experience of people ordering it over the internet. If you know where to look you can very easily get it.

“She would have known exactly where to get it. It is normally ingested rather than injected.”

Det Sgt Lloyd said a number of Calpol syringes, intended to measure the dose of children’s medicines, but often used to try to gauge the correct amount of GHB, were found in Shannon’s flat.

On one occasion Shannon told a drugs’ worker she would take 1ml every waking hour. On another occasion she said she had taken 100ml to try to end her life.

It is not known exactly how much she took on the night she died.

GHB, a relaxant, is also known to have been used as a date rape drug.

Users can become unconscious for several hours and have little recollection afterwards if they ever regain consciousness.