'My drug addict son (14) must be placed in secure unit or he'll end up killing himself'
Exclusive: Mother says boy's treatment in psychiatric unit totally inadequate and that his life is in imminent danger
A desperate mother is pleading for help to stop her 14-year-old boy killing himself through cocaine and other drugs.
Arlene Shannon says that her son's life is in imminent danger because of the lack of help for children with drugs and mental health problems in Northern Ireland.
Her son Liam is in Beechcroft psychiatric unit in south Belfast, but Arlene claims that the treatment he is receiving is "totally inadequate".
Three days ago the teenager raided a medicine cabinet in the unit, overdosed with prescription drugs and then ran off into the city centre, his mother said.
Arlene put out frantic messages on social media in a bid to find him.
Liam was later apprehended by passersby.
The PSNI then took him to A&E at the Mater Hospital, but he escaped from there.
He was eventually detained on the Shankill, handcuffed and returned to the hospital.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph in her Ardoyne home, Arlene said: "I am at my wits' end. The system is failing my son. He needs put in a locked, secure unit but the health authorities won't do that.
"If nobody will take responsibility for saving Liam's life, then they will have to take to responsibility for his death.
"I am speaking out today because if my son doesn't get the help he needs the next time I see him he will be in a body bag."
Arlene claimed that her son had started taking cocaine last year and, since then, he has abused other illegal narcotics and prescription drugs, which are freely available on sale on the streets.
She said that Liam had tried to take his own life many times.
The young mother-of-three expressed her fury at the glamorisation of drugs mule Michaella McCollum.
"I am sickened at how she has been treated. My family's story is testimony to the ugly reality of the drugs trade. Ardoyne is awash with drugs. It's like a tsunami has hit this community. There are up to 10 dealers in some streets," Arlene said.
SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon, who has been trying to help the Shannons, said: "The family want Liam put in a secure, locked unit but I've been told no such thing exists in Northern Ireland.
"Some health professionals say that locking him up would be counter-productive anyway, but his family believe it's the only way to help him.
"This is a heartbreaking case and somebody must do something before this young boy's life is lost."
Ms Mallon added: "I don't doubt that health professionals are trying their best but clearly the system cannot cope. Children and families who find themselves in these horrific circumstances need more support. Liam's story is by no means unique.
"I know other parents equally terrified of losing their children. There is a drugs epidemic and its child victims are getting younger and younger.
"Our healthcare system isn't changing quickly enough to meet their needs."
The Belfast Telegraph asked the Department of Health for comment, but at the time of going to print the department had not responded.
Arlene said Liam's first experience of drugs was taking a legal high when he was just 12.
"His behaviour started to change. He became introverted and anxious.
"He'd come into my bed at night because he was scared to sleep alone.
"He became paranoid. He wouldn't leave the house even to go to school.
"If he went to school, he'd suffer panic attacks and I'd be called to come and collect him," she explained.
Arlene said the family GP referred her to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
"They said he was too young for them to treat him and he was referred to child psychology in the RVH.
"We waited a year for that appointment. He was seen just a week before his 14th birthday and they only saw him once, as they said they only deal with under 14s."
Arlene said that Liam's behaviour became increasingly erratic last summer when he "started going out but was moody and bad-tempered at home".
She bought a drugs test on eBay and made him take it. Liam came up positive for four different drugs.
"He told me that he had taken only cocaine, so it must have been cut with different substances," she added.
The family GP again referred them to CAMHS. "But CAMHS passed us onto DAMHS (Drug and Alcohol Mental Health Service), and DAMHS referred us to DAISY (Drug and Alcohol Intervention Service for Youth).
"Liam saw DAISY twice and we never heard anything after that," Arlene said.
In January she found her son lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. He had taken drugs and sliced his arms.
"I contacted CAMHS again and they put me in touch with CAIT (Crisis Assessment and Intervention Team). CAIT medicated Liam with anti-psychotic drugs," she said.
"Liam's school then referred us to FASA (Forum for Action on Substance Abuse) on the Shankill. Liam was getting on well there, he had great relationship with his counsellor, but then FASA closed and our lifeline was gone."
Arlene said that Liam overdosed last month.
"He went crazy. We had to hold him down in the hall. He must have banged his forehead off the floor 100 times. He tried to bite and swallow his tongue.
"The police had to put him in hand and legcuffs to get him into the ambulance," she said.
Liam was admitted into Beechcroft psychiatric unit as a voluntary patient.
Arlene added: "He has sliced himself with blades. He has tried to enter the kitchen area to get a knife. He has kicked down doors to get out.
"The staff at Beechcroft are brilliant but the regime just isn't stringent enough for Liam. He has been given day and weekend passes and, when he's got out, he's taken drugs. Once when the police found him after he went AWOL he had taken prescription drugs.
"They took him to the RVH. He was then sent back to Beechcroft but a few hours later he absconded and the police caught him wandering in front of traffic."
Arlene insisted that her son urgently needed put in an ultra-secure unit and given intensive therapy.
"I've been told by medical professionals that children have rights, but what use will rights be to my child if he is dead?" she said.
Arlene, who is a school dinner lady, said: "I am a good mother who has tried to do everything right but the system isn't supporting me.
"I can't sleep at night because I'm so sick with worry. I haven't been able to work in weeks. I am 35 but I feel 100 years old. I don't know what more to do. I am crumbling as a human being."
The mother-of-three said that her 17-year-old son Brendan and her six-year-old daughter Alex were also enduring "an emotional nightmare".
Arlene described the drugs problem among young people in Ardoyne as "heartbreaking".
She said: "I see other mummies with their perfect wee four-year-old boys and girls walking into P1 and I think: 'God love you. In a decade or less, you could be me'."
If you are having a crisis contact Samaritans on 116 123 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.