‘If you take this drug you WILL die’

South Lincolnshire Coroner's Court
South Lincolnshire Coroner's Court
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A warning has been issued to drug users after a Tydd St Mary man was killed by elephant tranquiliser.

Neil David Waters died in a caravan at a farm at Tydd St Mary on April 14 after he unknowingly injected heroin cut with an elephant tranquiliser deadly to people.

If you are a dealer and simply in it for financial gain, I do not forgive you and I have nothing but hatred and contempt for you.

Partner Sharon Carter

Carfentanyl is so toxic that a single speck on the skin – the size of a grain of salt – can kill almost in an instant.

His death was among the first wave of cafentanyl drugs tragedies in Britain and now a coroner and Neil’s courageous partner, Sharon Carter, are warning users of even recreational drugs to be on their guard.

Paul Cooper, senior coroner for South Lincolnshire, said: “If you take this drug knowingly or unknowingly you will die. The drug was never intended to go for human consumption. All non-prescription drugs are dangerous but this is absolutely lethal.”

A post mortem revealed Neil died of carfentanyl and fentanyl toxicity.

Fentanyl is typically used in “pain patches” to relieve symptoms in illnesses such as cancer.

Toxicology expert Dr Paul Smith told yesterday’s inquest into Neil’s death that fentanyl has been prescribed for pain relief for many years and is 100 times more potent than morphine.

But carfentanyl – not seen in this country until February this year – is 10,000 times more potent than heroin. Heroin is a drug made from morphine.

Sharon spoke at the inquest to warn users about the deadly threat posed by the drug and Mr Cooper expressed hope that the press would carry the message to people at risk to avoid a repeat tragedy.

Sharon warned: “Please don’t think that the risk of having heroin replaced with Fentanyl and Carfentanyl is with ‘just the dirty junkies’ ... there are reports of them both being found in both cocane and marijuana, so the recreational users are at risk, too.”

• It was heartbreaking for Sharon as she pleaded for a wake-up call over the deadly drugs that claimed her partner’s life.

“Today we should have been celebrating our anniversary,” Sharon told coroner Paul Cooper. “Instead we are here dissecting how Neil died.”

The couple first dated when Sharon was 19 and resumed their relationship three years ago.

Neil had a history of SUD (substance use disorder) and Sharon had messages for the authorities who are denying the extent of the drug problem in our area, to society at large – asking people to learn about drug disorders – and to the GPs she described as “the biggest legal dealers out there”.

And there was a stark message for the person who sold, gave or sourced the lethal dose to Neil.

Sharon said: “If you are a dealer and simply in it for financial gain, I do not forgive you and I have nothing but hatred and contempt for you.

“If you were a ‘friend’ who sold it to him to fund your own addiction, then I beg you to push for help from someone – you effectively gave him a weapon of mass destruction and it could be you next time.

“If you sourced it for him because he manipulated you and told you how he needed it and how grateful he would be and it would be the last time etc – again, educate yourself – you were not being a friend, you helped to kill him ... how does that feel?”

Toxicologist Dr Paul Smith earlier explained how carfentanyl is handled in a laboratory, with technicians using protection for their skin, wearing respiratory devices to avoid inhalation and carrying the antidote, narloxene (trade name Narcan).

Sharon wanted to know why drug users are not being warned about carfentanyl and fentanyl being present in this area.

She said: “I know for a fact that people on methadone programmes etc are not being warned of the threat. There should be information widely available – ie in GPs surgeries, in pharmacies, at treatment groups etc. Why are we not giving out Narcan to people who are at risk of overdoses?”

She emphasised the risk is just as great for recreational drug users, telling the coroner: “I have just spoken with a mother who has just lost her 18-year-old son who tried drugs for the first time for that very reason.”

Explaining why she was making a stand, Sharon said: “Neil cannot speak from the grave, so I am left in the difficult position of speaking for him to try and convey his message and to try and make a difference to someone out there struggling right now.”

Sharon said Neil was no angel – “he was Jekyll and Hyde with a disease” – and needed real help and support.

“He wanted to be in recovery more now than he ever had, but he had not been given the tools as a young child nor the support as an adult to be able to do so,” she said.

She pleaded with GPs to “stop just prescribing medications as the easy answer.”

Sharon continued: “It is not the easy answer – it does not deal with the root of the problem.

“There are too many people getting these meds who are addicted but also selling them on the streets – GPs are some of the biggest legal dealers out there.

“Morphine is actually only effective for six weeks, yet Neil was prescribed it for years along with codeine phosphate plus diazepam and sleeping tablets – all those things continue to damage brain receptors and all of them have horrific withdrawals.

“Waiting times for referrals to psychotherapists and psychologists have to be reduced dramatically.

“The local drug support groups are severely lacking – both in resources and up to date knowledge.

“When someone has cried out for help, that moment is now or it will be lost forever.

“Neil cried out many times but too often he was simply labelled, judged and turned away with prescriptions after prescriptions – and more shame and anger and disappointment.

“Neil lost his life many years before his heart stopped beating.

“He had glimmers of hope and joy but they were dashed very quickly.”

Sharon wants Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to take a different approach to drug addiction and be “leaders and innovators”, making a difference to our whole society.

She has also called for greater focus on harm reduction, following a study by the American psychologist Dr Andrew Tatarsky and for the Home Office to stop rejecting advice from the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs.

Sharon believes people with SUDs are given too few chances to recover.

She said: “Tell me why someone gets kicked off a methadone programme if they test ‘dirty’? Does a diabetic get their insulin removed if they have too many cream cakes, or a cancer sufferer have their chemo removed if they have a cigarette?”

The inquest heard Neil was found dead in his caravan after his nephew broke in after becoming concerned.

PC Karen Irving told the hearing “a syringe with a bent needle” was by his side.

Sharon told the inquest: “My future has changed – the hopes I had are gone. I have changed forever ... but it is time for change and, if nothing else, I will try to keep Neil’s memory alive to try to bring that change in policies, in attitudes, in the understanding of the disease and in the treatment of those with SUD. Neil would want that.”

• Do you have a drugs story to tell? Email lynne.harrison@iliffepublishing.co.uk