'You never think it is going to happen to you' - Family of Cork teen who died after drug use looking to end stigma

Nicole Ryan has joined a campaign group Safer From Harm in an appeal for a more compassionate response to drug use in society.

'You never think it is going to happen to you' - Family of Cork teen who died after drug use looking to end stigma

Many people using drugs won't talk about it to people close to them because there is a stigma attached to it, the sister of a teenager who died from drugs has said.

Nicole Ryan has joined a campaign group Safer From Harm in an appeal for a more compassionate response to drug use in society.

Her brother, Alex, was aged 18 when he died after taking the synthetic party drug 251 NBOMe at a house party on Green Street in Greenmount, Cork city in January 2016.

Alex, from Liscahane in Millstreet, Co Cork, had taken two tablets and died from brain damage caused by cardiac arrest.

“Alex took a synthetic drug at a house party in Cork city in 2016 and he went into hospital as he suffered a cardiac arrest and he was put into an induced coma but he never woke up," said Nicole in a video for the campaign.

“You never think it is going to happen to you, you just read about these things in the papers, you see it on TV but you never assume it will happen to your family or yourself.

Sadly we never really had open discussions about drug use with him, when the fact is a lot of people use drugs but they don't openly talk about it cos they feel they will be stigmatised.

Nicole, aged 28, described her brother as “happy-go-lucky, people person,” who loved making people smile and laugh.

“He had his whole life ahead of him. He had hopes, he had dreams like any young person would have.”

She said Christmas was very different since he passed away: “This will be our third Chrismas without him. We had a normal Christmas Day like anybody else (before). We did nothing that special.

"We watch Harry Potter every year, we started watching it a long time ago and we just progressed to the next one, even though we saw them all. I haven't watched the last two cos he passed away. We just visit him out in Kerry where he's laid to rest, our way of being close to him.”

Safer From Harm is an initiative to decriminalise personal drug use and is backed by more than a dozen organisations including, Citywide, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, HIV Ireland Merchants Quay Ireland and Ana Liffey Drug Project.

“Christmas is a time for families, but sadly for Nicole and her family, this will be another Christmas without their brother and son Alex,” said Tony Duffin, Ana Liffey CEO.

Families across Ireland who have experiences with drug use recognise that it is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

We know this to be true and it is time we adopted an effective, meaningful health-led response.

“By choosing to respond in a compassionate and pragmatic way, we have the chance to rebuild lives and keep people, our families, safer from harm.”

He said the Government's proposed new policy on the possession of drugs for personal use would see people automatically referred by gardai to the health service the first time they are caught in possession.

“However, beyond this one opportunity, the policy remains firmly in the criminal justice domain," he said, "with second offences resulting in a discretionary adult caution being applied and subsequent offences apparently being dealt with through expensive criminal prosecutions as is currently the case.”

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