Tramadol kills more people than heroin in Northern Ireland, Stephen Booth inquest told
More people are dying from misuse of Tramadol than heroin or morphine, a coroner's court has heard.
Describing the painkiller as "a scourge on society", coroner Paddy McGurgan called for a campaign highlighting the dangers of the powerful drug.
Speaking at the inquest into the death of Londonderry man Stephen Booth (33), State Pathologist Professor Jack Crane said Tramadol had caused so many deaths, he had raised the issue with the Chief Medical Officer.
Mr Crane told the hearing that the amount of the painkiller found in Booth's body was above therapeutic levels. This, combined with two other drugs, was the cause of his death.
The pathologist said he had seen a "significant number of fatalities" caused by Tramadol, especially in cases where it was taken with other drugs, and that there were now "more deaths in Northern Ireland from Tramadol than any other drug such as heroin or morphine".
Mr Crane explained that it was the effects of Tramadol, exacerbated by the presence of alprazolam and diazepam, that forced Mr Booth into a deep sleep, before he fell into a coma and then stopped breathing.
He was responding to a question raised in court by Mr Booth's mother, Christine, who asked if her son would have felt any pain before he died.
The grieving mum said she wanted people to take heed of the dangers of taking Tramadol, so that no one else would have to bury their child.
She admitted during the hearing that although Stephen had been "easily led", he had been trying to turn his life around before he died and had moved into accommodation run by the Methodist City Mission.
Mrs Booth said: "I would never want another mother to go through the loss of a son. I never expected Stephen to die - he was getting his life together, he was trying to get his own flat and I don't think he knew the dangers of Tramadol."
The court also heard from a PSNI detective constable who was called in to investigate the possibility that someone had supplied the drugs to Mr Booth.
She said that in the five years she had worked as a police officer in Derry, drug use including Tramadol had become "a massive problem".
Mr McGurgan concluded by remarking it was obvious that Mr Booth was a "much-loved young man", but that he had "succumbed to what has become a scourge on society".
He added: "I would ask that people pay attention to Stephen's mother. When they are taking a cocktail of drugs, they are risking death. If anything comes out of this tragedy, let it be that someone else's life is saved by reading this."