A heartbroken mother has spoken of the devastating moment her autistic teenage son collapsed and died in his brother’s arms hours after taking a legal high.
Kirsty Scott was on a family holiday when she was told her youngest boy William had been rushed to hospital after becoming unwell at their Ballyclare home.
The 19-year-old, from Huntingdale Court, died from multiple organ failure on August 31, 2013 after taking what he thought was a legal high.
At the teenager’s inquest last week Coroner Joe McCrisken warned that users of legal highs were “playing Russian roulette with their lives”.
He added that in light of William’s death he would write to Health Minister Michelle O’Neill and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton in the hope of preventing further deaths.
Mrs Scott also warned of the dangers of so-called legal highs.
“This could be anyone’s child,” she said.
“This is a teenager ordering a legal high off the internet thinking it’s one thing, but it’s not, and it killed him in the end.”
A toxicology report revealed the substance contained Para-Chloroamphetamine, a class A controlled drug.
At the age of 18, eight months before his death, William was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
But the teenager struggled to accept his disorder, and turned to drugs “for a release”.
Mrs Scott explained that William started showing signs of autistic behaviour when he was three.
However, doctors misdiagnosed him with auditory processing disorder — a hearing problem that impacts on how the ears and brain co-ordinate.
Mrs Scott was adamant William suffered from Asperger’s and began a 15-year battle with health and education authorities to have his diagnosis changed, which would give him access to services.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Scott said she believed her son would still be here today if that had happened at an earlier stage in his life.
“I put up a fight to have William reassessed at the ages of five, 11 and again at 15 but the health trust and education board failed to pick up his condition,” she said.
“We got him into special school for his primary years but they took him out and put him into mainstream school when he was aged 11.
“All the way through primary and secondary school no one picked it up, yet it was so obvious.
“No one from either department was looking at William’s files and the lack of communication between the health trust and the education board meant opportunities were missed.”
Mrs Scott pushed officials as William’s health continued to deteriorate, and a few weeks before his 18th birthday he was sent to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
In January 2013 he was assessed for the final time and a few weeks later his parents were told he had Asperger’s.
But William struggled to accept the diagnosis, unable to grasp the meaning of his condition.
“The last three months of his life were a nightmare trying to get him help,” Mrs Scott said.
“He really struggled and drew into himself, and he started getting mental health issues because he hated himself and us.
“No one sat him down and explained it all to him.
“He was 19 and was thinking: ‘I’m never going to get married or have kids’, and he thought he was going to be put away. He was so confused.
“His mood was so low that he needed a lift.
“During this time he asked for his debit card and I didn’t want to give it to him because I felt, even though he was 19, he wasn’t capable because of his Asperger’s. But I didn’t have any control over that decision because he was classed as an adult. I was simply trying to protect him.
“However, he got his bank card and soon after he admitted he ordered the legal high ‘Midnight Mash’ online in July 2013 after I found the wrapper.
“He said it made him feel very calm and it was the first time in his life he was able to make sense of the world. But he promised he wouldn’t do it again and I believed him.”
Mrs Scott and her husband Gordon, who died last year, were coming to the end of their holiday when they received a phone call from their son Alex, who was in hospital after he found William seriously ill at their home.
Mrs Scott said William’s death broke her family, particularly his father, who struggled with the loss of his youngest son. In July last year he suffered a heart attack while out on his bike and died.
“I lost my son and then my husband in a very short space of time,” she added.
“Other parents could be going through what I have been through. People need to recognise that legal highs kill you and that vulnerable people are at a higher risk.
“I definitely feel William would still be here today if he got the help he needed because he would have been on the correct medication and we would have been able to work on his autism for years.”
After his death the Northern Health and Social Care Trust carried out an investigation into the issues raised by the Scott family and admitted there were “shortcomings” in William’s care.
It said: “The trust has met with Mrs Scott and her family on several occasions and has undertaken a comprehensive investigation into the issues raised by the family regarding the tragic death of their son William.
“Following further representations, and in line with procedures, the trust commissioned an independent review which was subsequently shared with the family and the trust.
“On the back of these investigations the trust has acknowledged and apologised for shortcomings in William’s care and has implemented learning identified in the two reviews.
“The trust would once again wish to apologise to Mrs Scott for difficulties she and her family have experienced.”