Colette Quigley’s son Andrew took his own life earlier this year after battling with addiction to legal highs to cope with a series of traumas.
Speaking at the recent United Communities Against Drugs launch conference in the Tower Hotel in Derry, Colette described in heartbreaking detail how difficult those last years and months were for her son and herself as a parent trying to cope with what was happening, while also recovering from cancer herself.
Ms Quigley, who comes from the Galliagh area of Derry said: “Andrew was 19 when he jumped off the ‘New Bridge’ on the 18th of January this year. The last four years of his life had been absolutely traumatic.
“When he was 15 I was diagnosed with cancer and I had to go away for two months to the Belfast Cancer Centre to get help.
“I believe it was from then that he started taking these legal highs, ‘Monkey Madness’ or the other stuff that you can get.
“Everybody was that focused on me, me getting well, me getting better and coming home, I believe a lot of things were missed. Because whenever I did come home there was a change in Andrew, his attitude, even his looks were changing, he didn’t look like my son.
“As well as that, Andrew had other life hardships, traumatic enough for an adult, let alone a 17-year-old. He lost his daddy, his granny was diagnosed with cancer after she had a major heart attack that nearly took her. So it was one thing after another and Andrew turned to these legal drugs, some type of escape.
“He just fell in with the wrong crowd, always asking for money.”
Colette said that her son’s attitude changed completely and he “became a hate-the-world”.
“He vented his anger out on me, we got moved into a wee bungalow because I couldn’t walk at the time and he tried to wreck the bungalow I don’t know how many times, I had to try and restrain him. All the while I thought this was just happening to me, I didn’t know there was anybody else out there going through the same thing.
“I didn’t want anybody else to know I was living with a drug addict.
“He said to me last year, ‘Mammy I’m addicted; I’m addicted to that ‘Monkey’. And I said to him ‘Addicted? How dare you be addicted to that’. I was absolutely raging at him, you know, ‘showing me up there, you’re going on like a pure half-wit’. Last year I have to say I would take 20 different cancers before I had to live last year again. He nearly put me over the hill.”
Ms Quigley elaborated that Andrew had tried to overdose on her pain medication, and then tried again a few months later.
“Andrew was already suffering from depression. That’s why he was taking the drugs to escape from that depression. The next day the come down off the stuff is absolutely horrific. If you are feeling low anyway, if you are coming down off stuff you are really skid-row bottom. Begging me, begging me ‘please mammy, please mammy, please just let me die, I don’t want to be here mammy, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be normal, why am I not normal, why can I not just go out and have a drink with my friends and come home, why mammy?”
She described how Andrew almost did get help, staying sober for five of the six weeks required before he could access treatment services.
“We were nearly there, we nearly made it and it was his birthday and he had a slip. Then it was just the slippery road down, and I couldn’t catch him,” Colette said, adding:
“My advice to any young people is: don’t go anywhere near any type of legal or illegal drug because they do get you.
“They get into your mind, they upset your psyche. You will never be free so just don’t go there. Don’t go there.”