Inquest into heroin death

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AN inquest into the death of a Craigavon man from a heroin overdose has found he was ‘entirely new’ to the drug.

Trainee chef Gary Marno, 25 and from Lakelands in Craigavon, collapsed at a house in Whitehill Pass, Bangor, in February this year after splitting £25-worth of the drug with a friend.

Mr Marno’s friend Stephen Davidson described how they had bought the heroin together and gone back to his house to take it, using needles supplied by a local chemist for treating addicts.

“He gave me a cuddle and said ‘I love you, mate’ and stood back and put his hands on the kitchen counter and then he collapsed,” he said, describing the victim’s last moments.

Mr Davidson made efforts to wake his friend and detected breathing and a pulse, but realised about 15 minutes later how serious the situation was and called an ambulance.

The victim’s sister, Jolene, told Monday’s inquest that the death had been “a big shock”.

“He was a healthy person, he liked to keep fit and look after his body - he just saw this (drugs) as dirt, it would have been something that he was against,” she said.

Assistant state pathologist Dr Alistair Bentley said there were few signs of habitual heroin use - like repeated needle marks - and that the victim may not have taken the drug before or may have abstained for a period of time and lost his tolerance.

“I believe he probably would not have taken heroin recently,” he said.

“Someone that was using heroin regularly recently I would have expected ... a greater concentration of morphine than we have here.”

The pathologist explained that with repeated use of opiate drugs like heroin, tolerance is developed and higher doses can be withstood. But in a person using the drug for the first time or one who has lost tolerance, less of the narcotic can be taken.

Mr Marno had also taken valium and codeine, which can exacerbate the effects of heroin in depressing the body’s vital functions.

Belfast Coroner Brian Sherrard said he was dealing with too many cases of this type, where people were playing “Russian roulette” with their lives.

“It is a mistake to think that you can take unknown substances that you buy on the street and actually you have no idea how our bodies will react to these substances,” he said.

“It seems to me that whenever we take illicit drugs we are effectively playing Russian roulette with our lives - we have to bear in mind the very real dangers of illicit drug use for us all.”

He found that the victim was “entirely new” to heroin use when he injected himself and subsequently died from heroin toxicity.