Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland facing 'tidal wave' of drug-related deaths: Coroner

By Cate McCurry

The father of Northern Ireland man Jamie Burns has said his son paid the 'ultimate price' for taking drugs.

Patrick McGurgan was speaking at the inquest into Jamie's death after taking an ecstasy pill at a Belfast nightclub during a night out with friends last November. The inquest heard how the 23-year-old told a friend he had taken the pill at the Shine nightclub at Queen's University Students' Union.

After collapsing, he was rushed by ambulance to hospital, but died a short time later.

There is now "little prospect" of the person who supplied the pill being caught, the inquest was told.

In the wake of Jamie's death, his heartbroken dad William launched the 1 Pill Will Kill campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs.

Yesterday he said his son paid the ultimate price after making one mistake.

Giving evidence at Belfast Coroner's Court, Mr Burns said his aim is to educate young people about the dangers of taking even one pill after losing his son - who he described as his "best friend" - to drugs.

Jamie was socialising with Curtis Griffith and Brandon Gillespie when he fell ill on November 19 last year.

Mr Griffith told the inquest that during the night Jamie had admitted taking a tablet but that he had not seen him buy or consume any pills.

"He was dancing and seemed happy then soon after he became all tense and his eyes were closed. His shoulders and arms were tense," he recalled.

Jamie's condition deteriorated and he was unable to walk or speak.

Mr Griffith took him to door staff and an ambulance was called to Shine.

He was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, however, he died hours later.

His heartbroken dad described him as a "typical" young man who loved football and going out with his friends.

"Jamie was shy but once you got to know him he never stopped talking," he said.

"He was a fun-loving son, brother and uncle. He had the whole world in front of him and because of one very sudden mistake, that I'm sure a lot of people make, he paid the ultimate price - his life.

"It's not nice sitting in the dark at 4am listening to your wife and daughter crying because of your one mistake.

"Not only has his life ended but my own and my wife's has been very difficult since then."

Police investigating his death have not been able to identify who Jamie purchased the drugs from or where.

Constable Mark Wilson told the inquest there is "little prospect" of anyone being arrested or charged in connection with the offence.

William has vowed to campaign about the dangers of drugs for the rest of his life.

In the nine months after his death, William has visited schools across Belfast and has been contacted by concerned parents of young people and teenagers as young as 13.

"I want to let people know what it's like for those who have been left behind," he added.

"I reached out and started this campaign which has given me a bit of peace.

"People don't realise how easy it is to get tablets that can kill you. I know Jamie wouldn't have taken the tablet if he knew what the consequences were. He loved life.

"I talked to him about drugs and he swore to me he didn't do them and I believed him.

"When I speak to young people I try to bring home the pain and suffering that parents are left with and highlight the dangers. Drugs don't discriminate by age."

William has produced various forms of literature including beer mats, stickers and taxi signs to reach out to young people.

He continued: "The main thrust is to educate kids and parents just how easy is to take that one tablet that could kill you leaving families to go through what we have.

"When you hear of young people dying from drugs you have a vision of an addict or a homeless person and Jamie was neither.

"I saw him lying on a cold metal trolley with tubes going into his arms, his eyes were taped shut, wires were in his legs and pads were placed on his chest. The floor was covered in blood.

"I will not stop campaigning until the day I die."

The coroner, Mr McGurgan, said that Northern Ireland is facing a "tidal wave" of drug-related deaths.

"Here we have another young person who has succumbed and lost his life because of the scourge of drugs in Northern Ireland," he added.

"We are faced with tidal wave of drug-related deaths in this country.

"This man (William) has embarked on a campaign to try and save other people's lives.

"If he can save one person from drugs than something positive can come from Jamie's death."

State pathologist Dr James Lyness, told the court that a post mortem revealed Jamie was suffering from a heart disease which may have made him more vulnerable to drugs. He also told the court that drugs are "a plague on our society".

"We are faced with cases every day," he added. "It's tragic to see families like this and brings it back when I can see the real people who have been left behind."

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