A Northern Ireland coroner has spoken at an event in west Belfast aimed at raising awareness about the increasing abuse of prescription drugs.
Joe McCrisken’s voice is one more often heard in the courtroom, but he said it was important to take part in Friday’s Feile discussion on the danger of prescription drugs.
“It was important to listen to the community, to get their views on this serious problem, and also to provide some degree of information or education to the community,” he explained.
The problem of prescription drug use is a very serious problem in Northern Ireland, we know that because the most recent figures indicate that tramadol kills more people in Northern Ireland than heroin.
– Coroner Joe McCrisken
Mr McCrisken continued: “Fentanyl, also a prescription drug, kills more people than cocaine and ecstasy combined, so you look at the black and white of those figures, we know we have a problem. One of the crucial roles of a coroner is to, where possible, prevent further deaths.”
Patricia Browne’s 26-year-old son Christopher Lavery died in April. She found attending the event helpful.
“Christopher’s death was four months ago, we’re still waiting on a toxicology report. It’s important to me as to why we are waiting so long to find out how he died.
“It was really helpful to think now they’re saying now they will come out to talk to us before the report comes out, they will go through it. I know there’s going to be an inquest into Christopher’s death, and that’s another frightening thing for me so it was really helpful to listen to how they’re going to go through the inquest.”
She credits the Falls Community Council as her “rock” in dealing with the aftermath of losing her son and as a vital lifeline for families affected.
The panel was keen to stress prescription medication is effective when used correctly – but that it has become too easily available to those who abuse it.
For Mr McCrisken – who has presided over many inquests into drugs deaths since take up his post last year – it was about listening to the community.
He said: “There was a great turnout today, and I said from the outset I wasn’t here to lecture the community, to give a speech to them, I was here to discuss the issue and to engage with them.
“We heard from a number of families, mother who’d lost sons, sisters who’d lost brothers as a result of prescription drugs, so I took an awful lot away and I’ve arranged further meetings with some of those families and community representatives so the learning will go on long beyond today and that’s a crucial role of the coroner, not just to speak but to listen as well.”