It was a beautiful Spring morning in 1977 when Derry woman Sadie O’Reilly gave birth to her second child Tony, at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Weighing a hefty 9lbs 4 oz with beautiful big brown eyes, Sadie says he was a “big pudding.”
“I was over the moon. Tony was such a good wane, he rarely cried, I never heard a peep. He grew into a little boy who loved Liverpool Football Club and dreamed that one day he would play at Anfield.
Tony was 16 when Sadie discovered he had been smoking cannabis.
“Tony had been smoking with his friends in the lane,” she explained.
“We sat him down and interrogated him for four hours about it.
“But none of the boys would break and say where they got it from.”
But it was when Tony turned 17 Sadie said she noticed his behaviour changing.
“Tony was studying sport and recreation at the Tech,” she said.
“In fact when he was 15 he had been offered a scholarship to play football in America in Arkansas, But I wouldn’t let him.
“In hindsight I look back and wonder if it was the right thing to do. I wonder if Tony had gone to America would he have started using drugs?
“He started missing days at college, we were concerned and we sat him down and talked to him. But the denial was there. All you can do is believe him or don’t believe. I used to search the house from top to bottom.
“Tony used to call me Inspector Clueso because I would even unscrew the light switches from the walls in case he had hidden something behind them.
“I didn’t know a thing about drugs, I hadn’t a clue. I’d never heard of cocaine or ‘Es until Tony started using them.
“Now I know that cannabis is a gateway drug, I believe if he hadn’t started smoking it, he wouldn’t have gone on to other drugs.”
As Tony turned 18, his drug use moved on to cocaine and ecstasy.
“It was difficult for us,” explained Sadie.
“Tony was 18, so we couldn’t ground him, the best we could was sit down and talk to him.”
But a trip to Amsterdam was to seal Tony’s fate as for the first time he began using the deadly drug, heroin.
“I only heard after Tony died how he and his friends tried bits and pieces of everything in Amsterdam,” said Sadie.
“But we didn’t know he was using heroin until he started injecting.
“My daughter Vivienne was living in Dublin and Tony would have been up and down visiting her.
“That’s where he began to freely get heroin because Dublin would have been big for drugs.
“He overdosed down there and was taken into hospital.
“I came home one day and he was sitting in the house, hands on his head with the house alarm blaring, I took him to his bed and he looked awful.
“I went into the toilet and saw the letter in the bowl that they had given him at the hospital.
“I lifted it out... saw the word heroin and was literally sick.. I just thought, has he gone this far now?
“I produced the letter to Tony and he sat and cried,
“The next day he went to the doctors. He came back and fell in the door.
“He had been given diazepam and had taken every one of them and could barely stand.
“Later he wanted something else and went to the doctors and started a massive row breaking a window.
“At that time I still didn’t know what addiction was.
“I think it wasn’t until I actually said - ‘my son’s an addict’- that I realised I had to do something or he was going to die.
“Tony overdosed again. That time, he flatlined, but they brought him round.
“When I saw him in hospital he was all hooked up to wires, I thought he was dead. But gradually he came round.”
Sadie took Tony back to their cityside home and the mother and son made plans for a new life.
“Tony was weak, but I was so glad to have him home,” she said.
“We went everywhere in Derry and asked for help, but unfortunately it wasn’t there.
“I decided to send Tony back to America thinking it would be better to get him away.
“He had been drug free for three months and I prayed he would get a new life. But he went looking for the drugs again in the States and he got them. He came home and told us everything. I’ll never forget what he said.
“He told me: “I don’t want to die, I really need help.
“But we were still walking on egg shells, I knew he had an addiction and he needed to go into a rehab centre.
“My sister got me a video of a rehab centre in Scotland.
“I went and asked a doctor if they could send him over on the NHS, but I was laughed at and told they didn’t have ‘that type of money’ to spend on drug addicts.
“Three weeks later Tony was dead.
“The night before he died it was just me and Tony. I called it the Last Supper., we had chicken curry, his favourite.
“I went out and when I came back Tony had gone and left a note saying he was away for a pint.
“I found out later he had gone to Dublin and started using again.
“He stopped at Monaghan on the way back and used drugs, he was out of it.
“Tony had a flat in the Waterside, but he never lived there, he stayed with me. That night he got off the bus at the end of the bridge, he didn’t come home because he didn’t want me to see him in that state. We were going off our heads with worry.
“The next day we went to the flat but could get no answer, we decided to break the door down.
“I pushed past and saw Tony lying on the floor in his boxers.
“He had injected into his ankle and suffered a massive heart attack.
“I don’t remember anything else except lying on top of him and screaming, shouting at people to help him.
“Police were there within minutes. They were trying to get me up but I couldn’t. I was lying on top of him shouting at Dessie to get him something because he was cold. I never thought he was dead. I thought that because they fixed him before they would fix him again.”
Sadie says the rest of the weekend was a blur - but the one thing she was determined about was that Tony’s death would not be in vain.
“Father Sean McKenna came to see me and I told him I wanted him to tell people what Tony had died from. I told him I wasn’t hiding it. I am not ashamed of Tony, he died from an addiction and we couldn’t get him help.
“I wanted him to tell people that. I don’t tell lies, I told people who came into my house he had died of a heroin overdose. I wasn’t ashamed of Tony because I knew who Tony was, he wasn’t born an addict, he was a beautiful wane who never gave me bother.
“I had to admit what happened because I didn’t want any other parents or wanes going through what we went through.
“I encouraged the people in the street to bring their wee brothers over and see Tony in his coffin. I was thinking and hoping it would deter them from doing anything like that. I wanted to put other young people off.”
After Tony’s death Sadie went to counselling and was encouraged by her counsellor Alex to go forward with her idea of setting up a treatment centre for drug addicts.
“I would talk to Alex about how this town had nothing for people with drug addictions. He made me believe I could do something.
“I applied for an addictions course in Magee and got accepted. Out of that I founded HURT - Have Your Tomorrows.
“In the beginning HURT was only supposed to be a telephone helpline.
“I remember walking round Derry asking for a wee room so I could start the group, but no one would give me anything. I knew I would have to fund it myself and we got a wee room in Great James’ Street.
“From there we began funding applications and I remember one lady who sent me a cheque for £2,000 because her own son had died from a heroin overdose. It was like getting a million pounds and I knew there were good people out there.
“We weren’t busy at the start, just the odd phone call.
“We later moved to Queen Street. It snowballed from there. We offered reflexology, meditation and listening ear. We had many people who came and said they would help out.
“But we needed bigger premises. I spotted our current premises in Clarendon Street, when I walked in I knew I had to have it.
“Dessie said I was mad that we didn’t have the money, but I knew I would get the money from somewhere. Tony was looking after me, I would talk to him and ask him to look after me.
“We applied for funding from the lottery, thanks to the help of Ciara Ferguson. It all started changing then and I had Debbie Keys working for me, she was a godsend. It grew bit by bit and were able to open in Strabane and Limavady.
“At HURT you get the whole holistic package, listening ear, a care plan, and treatments and counselling.
“We don’t just help the person but the families. Addiction has no barriers. We do the best we can offering what we can offer. You can self refer and we see people within two days.
“The only thing we don’t do is beds. My dream is to open a rehabilitation centre in Derry.”
These days Sadie is looking ahead - and says she could never have foreseen ten years ago that HURT would have grown to the success it is today.
“Of course I think about Tony all the time, I think he might have got married and had children. My goal is to keep his legacy going and stop other people going through what happened to us.”
nYou can contact HURT on 71369696.