Leading article

Aaron Connor - a young boy who got lost

Aaron Connor was a talented young cross-country runner, who competed at all Ireland level and was picked to carry the Olympic Torch when it came to Belfast before the 2012 Olympics.

He had a seven-month-old daughter, had trained as a bricklayer, was known to be a sharp dresser and, as a vegan, was careful about his diet.

Last weekend, at the age of 21, he was found collapsed in a toilet at a Starbucks coffee shop in Belfast city, and despite huge efforts by the staff, died in hospital shortly afterwards.

Despite all his family commitments, his personal accomplishments and his potential for the future, Aaron lost everything, including his life, because of a heroin addiction.

It may be some months before toxicology results confirm all the tragic circumstances, but his grieving parents, Christopher and Paula Connor, are already aware that drug-related items, including needles and a spoon, were found beside his body.

In a poignant message to The Irish News, published in advance of his funeral yesterday, his father said; `Aaron was just a young boy who got lost.'

Mr Connor said he had decided to speak out to warn other families about the massive dangers which exist over the ready availability of heroin across our society.

Only last week, A&E consultant Dr Aisling Diamond, in an interview with this paper, starkly set out her fears that the battle against the drug is not capable of being won.

Dr Diamond said the rapidly escalating number of cases she had seen included a 67-year-old pensioner, who experimented with heroin through boredom, and proposed the introduction of approved centres for addicts to inject.

We also reported on how a 24-year-old Belfast mother, Aoife Loughlin, came back from the brink, but only after spending two months as a resident in a specialist clinic in Scotland.

Paula Connor highlighted the lack of similar resources here and said she believed that circumstances could have worked out very differently for her son if he had been given the help he needed.

A range of different issues has surfaced in the course of the present Westminster election campaign, but little prominence has been given to the threat presented by heroin.

We owe it to the memory of Aaron Connor and many other victims to ensure that the need for investment in key facilities is fully recognised by the health authorities.

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