My biggest regret is that we never spoke to him about drugs

In the final part of our five-day series on drugs, NICOLE RYAN, whose brother Alex died after taking a synthetic drug, says we need to educate young people about the dangers of drugs and how their choices can impact everyone
My biggest regret is that we never spoke to him about drugs
Nicole Ryan.  Picture Darragh Kane

PARENTS will always want the best for their children, they shelter them, feed and clothe them and help them grow into young adults who will contribute to society in a positive way.

When they leave the nest it’s an emotional moment for any parent and even though you did your best you will always worry. Questions like “Are they eating?”, “Are they safe?” or “What are they doing right now?”

“Are they doing drugs?” is not something most parents ask themselves because their children have been brought up to know right from wrong and they know that drugs are bad therefore they will know better than to use drugs.

We thought the same yet we were very naïve to the fact that even though Alex knew drugs were bad — what we didn’t really comprehend was that he was young and part of being young is finding your identity, making your way in this world and seeking new experiences.

As kids transition from teens into young adults there are still a few things going on, mainly speaking adolescence. Just because your child may be 18 and classed as an “Adult” their brain continues to develop until they are 24 years old and what’s more is that they generally tend to have a decreased ability to plan, organise and assess risk accurately.

Young and innocent days.
Young and innocent days.

For example, as adults we have the freedom to drink alcohol on a Monday night, but we can assess the risks involved in such a decision. The majority of young people don’t think like that, this is through no fault of the parent it is just how they are developing. They generally live in the moment and usually consequences are an afterthought.

External forces that influence such as social media, music and TV are also key to decision making but one of the most influencing factors for young people is their peers — nobody ever wants to be excluded. Young people value the opinions of their friends before their own family. This doesn’t apply to every single young person because some young people are very good at assessing risk.

My brother did his research. The problem with synthetic drugs is that there is no quality control. As he was living in the moment the thought never crossed his mind that the drug he had could be something else. What my brother ended up taking was the 25I-Nbombe – and from the moment Alex ingested the drug his fate was decided.

Alex Ryan, who died after taking a synthetic drug.
Alex Ryan, who died after taking a synthetic drug.

My mother received a call from a guard that is every single parents’ nightmare and our lives were never going to be the same again. My brother suffered a cardiac arrest and had to be put in an induced coma. Sadly, Alex never work up, he suffered tremendous brain damage and was pronounced braindead four days later. Watching him slowly die over the course of the four days was unbearably painful.

Alex was such an amazing person who loved making people smile, loved sports, had amazing friends and was just trying to make his way in the world on his own for the first time. He was anyone’s child. Alex didn’t go out that night to die, he was not a habitual drug user just an uneducated young guy believing that the world would never hurt him. He made a decision, his own decision, that cost him not only his life but changed everybody else’s life in the wake. My biggest regret is that we never opened a discussion about drugs with him and we just assumed that he would know better. His death is on us as a family as much as it is on him. I often wonder what his last moments were like. How scared and sorry he must have been. Did he feel the pain as he lay there in the middle of the floor, alone. What were his last thoughts? Were they of us?

Nearly 9/10 times when a young person tries a drug they are usually under the influence of alcohol – it clouds their judgement and loosens their inhibitions. The drug rarely actually comes directly from a dealer but usually from a friend, and in the mind of a young person - friends don’t hurt you.

Scaremongering and lying can have the opposite effect on young people because once they leave and go to college or start working they see the reality of how drugs work and if they were lied to their whole life the mentality is “Well if Johnny didn’t die from cocaine like I was told – maybe I won’t die too”.

Drugs do not discriminate. They do not care about your social status, about race or religion, drugs will take anybody willing and what can seem like a temporary release or a good time can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Throughout his 18 years here Alex helped people in many ways and he never boasted about this – he did things because they were the right thing to do. He even left a gift for four people after he died through organ donation.

Alex is your son or daughter, your brother or sister, cousin or friend so begin to have these conversations with your kids, siblings and friends.

The reality is that drug use will not stop anytime soon. As a collective society we can begin to educate and teach young people about the dangers and about the choices we make and how it can impact everyone.

At the end of the day the choice will always be theirs, we cannot shelter them forever but if they are conscious and aware, they can make an informed decision for themselves.

You can catch up on the five-day series on the links below.

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