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Devastated family call for ban on legal highs after teen Adam dies after collapse

By Joanne Sweeney and Ricky Thompson

Published 15/04/2015

Adam Owens (17)
Adam Owens (17)

The family of a teenager found dead after taking legal highs have pleaded with politicians to get them banned before there is another young victim.

The father of Adam Owens (17) has spoken of his devastation after he died on Monday morning.

While the results of his postmortem examination have not yet been revealed, the teen's family predict it will show he had used the mind-altering substances, some of which are sold over shop counters.

The former Regent House student, from Newtownards, was discovered lying on the grass in the Bristol Park area of the town's West Winds estate.

His death has left the close-knit community shocked over the loss of such a young life.

Yesterday his father Carl and stepmother Dawn said Adam had been using legal highs as recently as Easter Monday.

Mr Owens told the Belfast Telegraph that he found his only son lying on the sofa that day.

"He was a good liar. He'd always deny it but we knew he was buying them (legal highs), but we started to see the signs," he said.

"Days like Easter Monday, he would just sleep it off and say he was fine. You just think 'it won't happen to you', but it's all over." The distraught father continued: "I have to walk past the spot where he was found every day when I go to work now.

"He was my only son - my only child."

It's understood that Adam had been taking the highs with other teenagers just hours before he was found.

Despite being rushed to hospital, he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Mr Owens said he thought that Adam began to use the substances about two years ago and quickly became a regular user.

The youth changed "from a happy, intelligent young man into a suicidal teenager".

He descended in a spiral of self-harm and began to experience problems at school before getting into trouble with the police.

Mr Owens said: "When we discovered Adam was taking legal highs, we looked into it more and started seeing things and hearing things. You can buy it just like a pint of milk."

Adam's stepmum, Dawn Carlile, fighting back tears, said: "Legal highs are a major problem around here and something has to be done about it.

"They're killing kids, destroying families.

"Please - politicians have to do something about this before another child is found dead." She said she saw how Adam's use of legal highs began to affect his school work, social and family life, and mental stablility.

"We don't understand how a young boy of 17 can be found dead on the grass. How's that right?" she added.

"The whole family's devastated - everybody."

It's believed that 20 deaths in Northern Ireland have been linked to the unregulated drug known as speckled cherries or speckled crosses.

In recent months, two teenage girls, from Newry and Lurgan in Co Armagh, were hospitalised after using legal highs while partying with other teenagers.

Last year, former Health Minister Edwin Poots expressed his concern at a number of new substances being introduced to the region that are not meant for human consumption.

Story so far

Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey warned about the lethal consequences of so-called legal highs less than a year ago after as many as 20 people in Northern Ireland were believed to have died as a result. In June, 2014 at the inquest looking in the deaths of six young men linked with the substances, he referred to the use of the stimulant Serotoni as tantamount to being "a serial killer" on the loose. Calling for a ban on them, Mr Leckey went further and said that those caught supplying the drug should face manslaughter charges.

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