Coroner calls for Stormont action after prescription drug death of Michael Wylie
The parents of a Portadown man who died from an overdose of tramadol have joined a coroner in demanding Stormont politicians take action on what they call 'a modern plague' of prescription drug deaths in Northern Ireland.
Michael Wylie, a call centre worker aged 29, was found dead in his girlfriend's home in Banbridge on November 27 last year after taking a dose of tramadol five times over the safe therapeutic levels.
At his inquest yesterday the court heard that between 2006 and 2015, 172 people have died from tramadol poisoning in Northern Ireland.
This compares to 157 deaths from heroin and 43 from cocaine in the same period.
Coroner Joe McCrisken said the problem was getting worse every year and, in an unusual move, demanded Stormont politicians show leadership on the crises.
"The time has come in my opinion for those people elected on our behalf to take action," he said.
"We presently have no local executive, Assembly or Health Minister. Without a programme for government and an updated departmental strategy to reduce the harm of substance misuse, namely prescription drugs, our community in my opinion has been left without proper leadership."
Yesterday, Mr Wylie's parents, Ken and Carmel Wylie, described their only child as "intelligent, polite and immensely fun".
They also echoed a call from the former State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, Professor Jack Crane, to reclassify illegally obtained tramadol from a class C to a class A drug.
In court, Mrs Wylie said: "Nearly every weekend now you hear some awful story and another set of parents having to go to identify their child.
"We expected to have a grandchild one day, we'll never have a daughter-in-law, it's all been taken away. No parent should have to go through this ever again."
His father added: "It just devastates families. I would just like to say that public awareness needs to be raised about prescription drugs and anything that can be done needs to be done now."
The court heard that Mr Wylie had been in good spirits on Friday, November 25, 2016, when his father picked him up from his job to take him to his girlfriend Ashley Harper's house on Church View Drive in Banbridge.
The couple stayed together at home that Saturday, with Mr Wylie's mother bringing him a spare change of clothes that afternoon. The last thing he had said to both of his parents was to tell them he loved them.
Taking the stand, a tearful Ms Harper told the court how she woke beside Mr Wylie around 9.30am on the Sunday and, believing him to be sleeping, left the room to watch television.
"I met him through family, he knew my sisters and I started a relationship with him. We were only seeing each other a couple of weeks," she said.
She told the coroner she had not been aware he had taken anything other than some painkillers for a headache.
Almost seven hours later, at around 4pm, she said she checked on him to find him unresponsive.
"I tried to shake him but he wouldn't move. I tried to do mouth-to-mouth and he started bleeding from the mouth," she said.
An ambulance arrived within minutes, but it became clear he had been dead for a number of hours.
Mr Wylie's mother called his phone shortly afterwards to be told by a paramedic her son was dead.
Police found no drugs in the house, but after checking two phones became aware tramadol was involved.
He was not given the drugs by a GP and a criminal investigation is ongoing.
Northern Ireland's present State Pathologist, Dr James Lyness, said tramadol deaths in the province had become a "significant problem" and the easy availability of the drug accounted for higher death rates than other prescription drugs like morphine or diazepam.