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Mum whose son died after taking drugs warns over legal high perils

By Donna Deeney

Published 27/11/2015

Adele Wallace, whose son Adam Owens died earlier this year after taking legal highs, at the launch of the Cathedral Youth Club’s new DVD at Lisneal College yesterday
Adele Wallace, whose son Adam Owens died earlier this year after taking legal highs, at the launch of the Cathedral Youth Club’s new DVD at Lisneal College yesterday
Adam Owens

Adam Owens was a bright grammar school student with the world at his feet until he started taking drugs at 14.

Within three years he was dead.

Adam's mother Adele Wallace told a cross-community audience of students how a so-called legal high took her son's life and implored them to turn their backs on drugs that could destroy them too.

Ms Wallace was speaking at the launch of Lethal Highs, Legal Lows, a DVD made by young people from the Cathedral Youth Club in the Fountain area of Londonderry.

The film, which does not sugar-coat the damage done to a whole family if one person is abusing substances, has now been adopted as a teaching tool by the PSNI.

Ms Wallace said saving any other parent from her intolerable grief compelled her to take part.

She said: "That moment when I answered the knock on the door to a policeman telling me my son was dead is something I will never recover from.

"It changed my life and also the lives of our whole family; it was the greatest hurt that I will ever have to go through. Adam died after taking psychoactive substance, a legal high, on April 15 this year when he was aged 17.

"He was with two of his friends and they had shared the drug but it was so lethal that it killed him and left one of his friends very ill, although he was saved.

"Before the ambulance reached Adam it was too late, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

"Three years before that my son had everything going for him: he was bright, intelligent and getting on well at grammar school.

"He was a caring, compassionate boy who would do whatever he could to help people, but then he started taking cannabis and the effect of that and the other drugs it led to was incredible.

"We tried to get Adam help but the drugs had too much of a hold on him, so we just could not reach him.

"The ironic thing was that just one week before he died he did try and get help, he went to his GP and had seen a physiologist. But before anything else could be done he took the drugs on the 15th that killed him." Graham Warke, a leader at the Cathedral Youth Club and a councillor in Derry City and Strabane District, came up with the idea of the DVD after hearing too many stories that mirrored Adam's plight.

He said: "Through both of my jobs I became aware of an increasing number of young people who were either dying or being badly damaged from these drugs and wanted to highlight the problem.

"With the help of Hurt, an organisation that works with people struggling with addiction, and the PSNI, we compiled the DVD, which we will make as available as we can through social media.

"It is a very powerful piece of work and it is hard-hitting, but it tells the real story of what your life could be like if you get addicted to these drugs.

"The people who peddle this stuff keep one step ahead of the law by tweaking the ingredients so that as soon as one substance is banned it reappears under a slightly different guise.

"This is something we hope will be addressed by tougher and wider legislation that will wipe this deadly substance away.

"I have been very heartened by the response from the Chief Constable to the DVD and from the Health Minister who has endorsed it, but mostly by the reaction of the 120 young people who watched it at Lisneal College."

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