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Sister of drugs death Joanne Bowman says she was ‘failed' by authorities

Joanne Bowman (21) was found dead at a house in west Belfast on St Stephen's Day 

THE sister of a young woman who died of a suspected drug overdose has said she "begged on hands and knees" for help but was let down by the system.

Police have warned of a spate of deaths, with at least three people having died since St Stephen's Day,

All the deaths involve young people in their teens or early twenties.

While toxicology tests are still being carried out Denise Bowman, the sister of Joanne Bowman who died in a house in west Belfast on St Stephen's Day, said she had warned professionals that the 21-year-old would be found dead if they didn't help her.

"Joanne was warm and funny but also really childish and naive, she was a vulnerable adult, but she was also very loved by her family", she said.

"I had her in my home on Christmas Eve and now she's back lying in a coffin in my living room.

"Joanne was never a danger to anyone but herself, I warned the mental health team she'd be found dead if they didn't help, but I never thought it would come so soon and in this way.

"She begged to be admitted to hospital for help and was actually on her hands and knees, but they said he didn't meet the criteria and sent her home with a handful of leaflets.

"I don't know what drugs she was taking, but I think she was self medicating because she wasn't getting the right professional care.

"My sister is gone, it's too late for her but something needs to be done to help others, because I feel for any other family going through what we've been through", she added.

North Belfast councillor Paul McCusker said he has asked for an urgent meeting with the Housing Executive, PSNI, Public Health Agency and Belfast Trust to discuss the crisis.

The SDLP councillor, who also works as a medical practitioner, said "communities are continuing to be pulled apart, families are continuing to face more devastation, those suffering drug addictions are caught in a viscous circle and those preying on the vulnerable are causing more deaths."

"More action is needed now," he said.

"Many of these deaths involve young people and there is a lack of education and awareness around the dangers, that is something else I will be raising with the relevant authorities.

"Police also need to be more proactive in dealing with the source of these drugs and release more specific information about what they think is causing these deaths in order to protect young people at risk", he added.

Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said; "Our advice is very simple: Do not take illegal drugs; do not take prescription medication that has not been prescribed for you and do not mix either with alcohol.

"The consequences of ignoring this advice can be life-threatening.

"We do not want officers calling with families of loved ones to deliver the heart-breaking news that someone is seriously ill, or has died as a result of drug or substance abuse", he added.

While too distressed to speak publicly the family of aspiring DJ Gerard Hall (19), who died in a flat in west Belfast on Thursday have denied his death was drugs related saying he died of 'natural causes'.

Mr Hall's funeral will be celebrated at St Agnes' Church in west Belfast at 10am on Wednesday.

The death of a man in his 20s, who was found in a flat in the Cregagh area of east Belfast on Wednesday of last week, is also being linked to drugs.

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