'I hope my son's drug death serves as a warning to others'
THE heartbroken mother of a west Belfast teenager who died weeks after he began to experiment with prescription drugs said she hopes his death can "serve as a warning" to others.
She was speaking as a coroner at the inquest into Aaron Strong's death said he believed tramadol should be reclassified as a Class A drug due to the growing numbers of deaths connected to it.
Belfast Coroners Court heard how Aaron (18), from Glenalina Road, died four days after he took a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs while at a friend's house.
He was found unresponsive in bed on April 23 last year and never regained consciousness.
His distraught mother Ann Marie Strong told the inquest that her son had only started taking drugs.
"About four, five weeks prior to his death, I noticed a change in him, he would snap so easily," she said.
"I knew as a mother he was taking something. I just knew he was on drugs, I could see it in his eyes.
"The drugs are just so easy to get in our area, it's the norm."
Acting state pathologist Professor Jack Crane told the court a combination of tramadol, diazepam and phenazepam - a drug not prescribed in the UK and believed to be from Russia - were found in Aaron's body.
None had been prescribed to him by a doctor.
"There is little doubt in this case that the combined effects of these drugs were the ultimate cause of his death," said Professor Crane.
Coroner Joe McCrisken found that Aaron died from hypoxic brain injury due to cardiac arrest and poisoning by the drugs.
He said his tragic death highlighted how "prescription drugs destroy lives" and said more education is needed about their dangers.
"This view that prescription drugs are safe because doctors can prescribe them couldn't be further from the truth," he said.
"Possession of drugs without a prescription is a criminal offence. Tramadol should be a Class A drug, not a Class C drug. It wouldn't prevent its use, but it would send the right signal."
He said tramadol "kills more people in Northern Ireland than any other drugs".
"Ten years ago people who died from drugs - it was cocaine or heroin," he said.
"But now it's 10 drugs in small quantities and Aaron's case falls into this.
"It's about education about the dangers of recreational drugs and that it might happen to you."
Following his death, Aaron's family donated his organs which helped save nine lives, including a 59-year-old man who received his heart.
Speaking outside the court, Ms Strong pleaded with people to "please stop, don't be buying any drugs, unless they are prescribed for you".
"All these kids are buying these drugs on the street, but somebody is going to die," she said.
"It's heartbreaking for any mother to lose her child. I hope people will realise these drugs are on the streets and young people are buying them. I don't want this to happen to any other family."