Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

She was a bright young girl who overcame a heart defect...but Denise couldn’t beat the addiction that haunted her for years

Denise's mother Elizabeth with her picture

She had been a bright young girl who had overcome a heart defect.

But her promising life was to be cut short by the scourge of drug addiction.

Denise Cameron had fought a long battle against heroin after turning to the drug at 31.

Eleven years later, despite failed attempts to beat the habit, the east Belfast woman would lose the fight and her life, aged just 42.

In August 2011 police officers forced their way into her boyfriend’s flat and discovered her body.

She was found in a kneeling position. Anthony Reid was lying on top of her.

The 38-year-old father-of-two — known as Tony to his family — was also dead.

Details of how the couple spent their final hours at the flat in Kilbroney House are unclear, but neither had been seen by neighbours for days.

An inquest into the deaths held in Belfast yesterday revealed a cocktail of drugs and alcohol were found in both bodies.

This included small amounts of methadone — a heroin substitute used to wean addicts off the drug — tramadol and diazepam.

Although Senior Coroner John Leckey said the position the fully clothed couple were found in was “most unusual”, he added there was no evidence to suggest the cause of death was suicide.

Mr Leckey said the weight of Mr Reid on top of her would have “seriously compromised her ability to breathe”.

But he added that it was a “tragic” accidental combination of drugs and alcohol that caused their deaths.

“Once heroin enters the picture a downward spiral seems to be inevitable,” Mr Leckey said.

Denise’s brother Denis, however, said despite the inquest the family feels they will “never really know” what happened.

“The words ‘I’m sorry, it’s my fault’ were written on the wall,” Mr Cameron said.

Denise, the eldest of three children, had been born with a hole in her heart and was treated for the condition until she was eight.

She had gone on to study at the Jordanstown campus at the University of Ulster.

Her mother Elizabeth described her as “very bright”.

“She loved English and English literature,” her brother added.

“She was a bit of a philosopher.”

She would go on to travel to Spain, where she lived for a number of years. He said her drug- taking had started with “softer” recreational drugs, then, when she began to struggle to cope with life, she started taking heroin.

“It began with lighter drugs, ecstasy, grass, blow,” he said.

“It’s progression. But I think there was a deep-seated insecurity.”

It was after a relationship had broken down that she turned to hard drugs, leading to an 11-year battle.

In the 1990s she was admitted to hospital and had a huge cyst removed, leaving her with other medical complications. And in 2005, after giving birth to a baby, it died 13 days later.

Denise faced further heartbreak after she discovered she had contracted the HIV virus from a long-term partner while living in Spain.

“He knew he was infected,” Mr Cameron said.

“She reported him to the police that he knew he had it, but he wasn’t making other people aware.”

Mr Cameron said the heroin his sister had tried to conquer “annihilates” people and their families.

“She thought she was strong enough. She was a pretty strong individual, but when it got the hold of her there was no chance.

“She stopped living, she basically became a hermit.

“When she didn’t have the money to have the heroin she would be drinking heavily.”

He said she had been trying to stop.

“She had been trying for the last five or six years to come off it.”

“We all feel guilty.

“You think you could have done more.

“But it is very difficult to be around someone who has been self-destructive.

“You can only do so much for somebody else, they have to do it themselves.”

Asked what message his family would want to send out after losing his sister and her boyfriend to drugs, Denis said: “There needs to be better help for people struggling with addiction in Northern Ireland.

“They are vulnerable.

“I’m not saying that they shouldn’t pay any attention to lighter recreational drugs, because they can also have a harmful effect, but the likes of heroin will totally annihilate you.”

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