‘As a mother it was easier burying Dale than it was watching him’

A heartbroken mother who lost her youngest son to a suspected drug overdose has spoken of her family’s experience of the agony of addiction.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 5:31 pm
Ruth Bone with a memento of her late son Dale who died of a suspected overdose in May.

Dale Bone was just shy of his 30th birthday when he died suddenly in a room he took in a house on Duncreggan Road on May 3.

His mother Ruth believes Dale was the victim of a bad batch of ‘diazepam’ tablets in circulation in the city at the time although the family are still awaiting a coroner’s report on his death.

Almost five months after the tragic passing of the young father-of-two, Ruth is speaking out to raise awareness about the potentially lethal consequences of consuming ‘street benzos’ or ‘blues’ as they are known colloquially.

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“Before he died I would talk to Dale and say, ‘I don’t understand why you take these pills. What exactly does it do for you?’

“He would say it relaxed him and helped him to sleep. Surely there must be something else. What was the interest? Did he see other people taking them? For me, I noticed a difference in Dale when he took them and I didn’t like him when he was on them. So I don’t understand what the fascination was for him,” she recalls.

The Clooney woman knows that her story will be familiar to many people in Derry regardless of what class, creed, race or gender they identify as.

“It doesn’t matter what religion you are. It doesn’t matter what kind of family background you come from. You can come from the best family, an average family or the poorest family but with these pills you are sadly just a number.”

Ruth used to warn Dale he was playing Russian roulette by consuming street drugs that were possibly contaminated and unregulated in terms of their potency.

“Towards the end I used to say to Dale, ‘do you realise you could die from these?’ He said, ‘Mum, I could step out in front of a car tomorrow. I have an addiction’.

“I told him I understood that but that he had children, he had me, he had so much going for him in his life and that he didn’t need these pills. But he would only say that I didn’t know what it was like not to have them.

“Maybe I was naive. When I thought about somebody who had a drug addiction I thought about people who broke into houses, who looked rough, but some of these people who are drug addicts have a family behind them who are trying to help them. They are not being shoved out the door and told we don’t want to know you.”

According to Ruth, Dale’s descent into serious addiction to pharmaceuticals had occurred quite late but accelerated rapidly last year.

He had never been a drinker but had smoked cannabis recreationally in his late teens and throughout his 20s. He had held down a job and was ‘high functioning’ until near the end.

“The pills were not something he would have taken on a daily or weekly basis. He wasn’t addicted to them then. He could have gone without them. The same as the weed. I’ve seen him off that for six months before he went back on it again.

“He worked. He always had different jobs and right until the day he died he funded his own habit.

“He never once would have come and taken or asked for money. He could function. He kept himself spotless, was always tidy. He took very great pride in himself.

“In October last year things started to go down hill. He had a break-up in his relationship. He lost his job, even though they asked him to go and get clean and the job would still be there - but he just couldn’t see anyway around it.

“He obviously had no money coming in so the weed was hard to get. He couldn’t afford it because it had gone up, so his only thing then was to buy the pills on the street.

“After Christmas it got to the stage that not only was he taking pills, if he couldn’t get the pills he would be very depressed and you might not hear from him for days. He would have just hung up in his room.

“The pills then really, really took hold. He was addicted to diazepam on a daily basis. It got to a stage when him and I couldn’t have a conversation because he just wouldn’t listen.

“I was constantly on his back. I gave up saying ‘please, get help Dale, please do this’. In the end up I had to say, ‘Dale do what you want. It is your life. It’s you who will be without’.

“Never would I turn my back on him but I always made sure he knew that if he wanted to live that way he did it without my consent.

“I didn’t want him to live that way. But I didn’t want us to fall out and him feel he had nobody. I always wanted to be there for him. The door was always open. But unfortunately the drugs were more open than my door.”

Ruth last saw Dale alive on Friday, May 7. He visited her at her home in the Clooney Estate and they had a fish supper. He was looking well.

“I said he was looking really good and he told me that he was feeling good. We sat around the table and had fish and chips. I asked him where he was heading and he asked me to drop him at the Diamond. His dole money came into my account so I gave him that and told him to take another £20 in case he needed it.

“He said he would ring me over the weekend and I said, ‘Dale, you never ring me over the weekend’. He started to laugh and said he’d see me next week, ‘I love you, cheerio’. That was it. I was content because I could see he looked really well.”

Ruth got an inkling that something was amiss when she started to get calls from some of Dale’s friends at teatime on Saturday, May 8.

Over the course of the evening and the following morning the phone calls became increasingly panicked. Ruth didn’t sleep.

On the Sunday she began to suspect Dale had been caught in possession and lifted by the PSNI. He hadn’t.

She learned from his friends that Dale’s room was locked and that the police had been called out. The door was opened and his body was discovered.

Ruth then suffered every mother’s nightmare.

“It was about 3pm that the police came here to tell me though I already knew by then. Somebody had phoned to tell me. When the policewoman came in I told her that already knew.

“So I had to go to his room and identify him which wasn’t pleasant. Dale had fallen across the bed and when they had him turned around his hands were frozen and there was blood coming out of his mouth. I thought he had been hit but the CID people said no.

“I didn’t go right into the room. I saw it all from the doorway. I had never been in the room before but in the corner I saw all his bags and I thought, that’s his belongings, that’s how he lived. So that was it. CID then took a statement. Then we buried him.

“There were different rumours going about - ‘he was seen with such and such’ - but I didn’t care. To me he was gone.

“I had thought he had taken his own life. I had been concerned about him before Christmas because he had been very low. When it happened it wasn’t a shock.

“But a week and a half later CID came out and told us it was a bad batch. He went for a post-mortem. They had to take tissues and blood. We are still waiting for the coroner’s report. It was to be out in August but there has been a delay so we haven’t been able to register his death. Everything is prolonged.

“The CID asked if I minded if they kept his phone. I told them to hold onto it by all means if it can help catch the person who is selling these pills and stop this from happening to someone else.”

Ruth explains that two pills from a strip of ten were missing from a ‘diazepam’ packet in Dale’s room.

“I know that batch of pills that he bought would have cost him £10. So £2 killed him. Normally two diazepam tablets would have been like two paracetamol tablets to Dale because of his use. This was lethal stuff. I know he is not the first person over the summer to have died because of it and some of the people who died, he knew them.”

Ruth has decided to tell her family’s story in the hope it will prompt someone in Dale’s position to get help.

She fears addiction to pharmaceutical drugs is a growing problem in the Derry area. She recalls an example of brazen drug-dealing when she was on a shopping trip with her late son in the city centre a few years ago.

“Dale was looking at a present for his wee boy for his birthday and I was standing next to Dale while we browsed. These two young fellahs in their 20s came between us and asked Dale if he wanted to buy some pills. I looked and his face went grey. On a Saturday afternoon in the middle of a shop! I imagined these things are done up a dark lane. To me it proves how easily some can fall into that trap.”

Ruth is supportive of the campaign for a detoxification centre for Derry.

“I would be all for a detox centre. I have seen people who have gone through a detox and are doing amazingly but you could have had seven of those in the city and Dale Bone wouldn’t have gone. That person has to want the services of a detox centre.

“I can only say, as a mother, it was easier burying him than watching him. As my eldest son said, ‘The way I see it there is a heaven and a hell. Dale has lived in hell this past six months. He is in heaven now’. Earth was hell for Dale coming near the end. It was hell. A week after he died he would have been 31.”