Janis O’Sullivan said the image of her brother, Steven, which was posted on the Facebook page of Cork’s 96fm on Tuesday, reinforced how difficult it has been for her family as they struggled to help him in recent years.
She also hit out at so-called keyboard warriors who criticised her family for not helping him. “They haven’t lived it. They don’t understand,” she said “My mam did everything to help him, but he just spiralled out of control.
“He’s only 24 and he’s been through everything. He’s robbing people to fix his habit, he’s even robbing from his own family. But it’s a disease. I’ve tried to understand it but this heroin eats away at your bones.”
She also criticised the lack of help and support services and said she fears her brother may die before he gets the help he needs.
“There’s not enough help out there. Admittedly he did have help at one stage but, once he turned 18, he’s his own person,” she said.
“I know some places or programmes are full or there’s a waiting list, and he could be dead by then.
“We wait for a call that heroin killed him, or that he killed himself. People have no idea.”
A member of the public photographed Steven lying on the bonnet of a car on North Main St on Tuesday and sent it to 96fm.
The photo was published on the station’s Facebook page, prompting a flood of comments and criticism for publishing an image which clearly identified him. The radio station defended its decision to publish the image but later removed it after a request from his family.
However, Steven’s sister Janis spoke openly to PJ Coogan on the station’s Opinion Line programme yesterday.
In an emotional interview, she said Steven was expelled from school in second year, got into drugs in his early teens, and, despite help from family and social workers, fell in with the wrong crowd and spiralled out of control.
He began living on the streets about four years ago, but Janis said there is always a bed at home for him.
Despite meeting him on the streets from time to time, Janis said he has declined several offers of help.
“What hurt me most was passers-by looking down on me wondering why I was talking to him,” she said.
Janis, a mother of two, said she has concerns about bringing him home because he hides needles.
She said their mother has done everything she possibly could, but they feel he is now beyond their help.
Recent figures show there are about 500 regular heroin users in Cork City, mostly men in the 20s and 30s, but only half are thought to be dealing with the HSE services and receiving methadone treatment.
The HSE’s Drug and Alcohol Service announced plans in May to distribute naloxone, a drug which reverses the effects of overdoses, to addicts at risk of overdose, and to those who would have frequent contact with them, as part of a wider plan to reduce overdose deaths.
Naloxone is commonly injected intravenously, or can be administered in mist form through a nasal atomiser.
The HSE has trained up to 100 addicts to help friends who overdose.
Nearly 90 fatalities from heroin and other opiates overdoses have been reported in Cork City in the past 11 years.