Daughter and brother lost to addiction

Clonmel woman speaks out after double tragedy

By Eamonn Wynne ewynne@nationalist.ie@TheNationalist

A woman whose family has been devastated by drug addiction has organised a walk and public meeting to raise greater awareness of the issues that contributed to the deaths of her daughter and brother.

Anne-marie Channon, whose daughter Amy and brother Christopher have died in the past 18 months, is appealing for support for March for Change, a walk and meeting that will take place in Clonmel's town centre on Saturday week, June 11.

"Everybody needs to be more aware of what's going on around them", she says.

"There's a major drugs problem in Clonmel but it's not confined to large towns. Drugs are available on every corner in every town and village in the country.

More resources are needed to enable the Gardaí and the HSE to tackle the drugs problem and for society to deal with other issues such as homelessness, addiction and mental health awareness and funding".

Anne-marie Channon is daughter of the late Ted Channon, the well-known farrier, and the late Mary Ellen Channon, Anglesea Street, Clonmel. More than most she knows only too well the havoc that drug addiction can wreak.

Her only daughter Amy Channon, a 25 year-old mother of three young children, died on December 4 2014.

"She was in a flat in Fethard when she fell asleep watching a DVD. She died in her sleep".

Ms Channon said that her daughter was addicted to prescription medication at the time of her death. Traces of speed and cannabis were also found in her system. She had been hospitalised after an attempt to take her own life some weeks previously.

"She had also been suffering from mental health problems but didn't properly address them. It's also very difficult to get access to what are limited mental health services, and if you don't continue to engage with those services it's very difficult to get back into the system.

If her mental health difficulties had been properly looked after she may not have become addicted to drugs".

Anne-marie Channon, who lives in Lisronagh village with her partner and family, was due to meet her daughter on the morning she died.

"The bus stopped in the village but Amy wasn't on it. I thought at first that she was probably still in bed asleep. I made countless phone calls and left messages but there was no reply. After a while I saw an ambulance travelling through Lisronagh but little did I know that Amy was in it. Ten minutes later the Guards rang and I met them at the hospital in Clonmel.

It was all a blur at first. Even to this day it doesn't feel real. She was my only daughter and so young".

Anne-marie Channon, who is also mother to sons Alex, Thomas and Jack, now has custody of her daughter's three children - Mya, who is 10; 6 year-old Jayden and 4 year-old Teegan.

Ms Channon says that Amy was very troubled throughout her teenage years. She was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 14 and was referred to psychiatrists and psychologists, as well as for anger management counselling.

"At 16 she went totally out of control and off the rails, and started taking drugs. Her addiction problems began after the birth of her first child Mya, when she was prescribed medication for back pain. She also suffered from post-natal depression and she became hooked on tablets, it was almost as if she couldn't live without them. But tablets aren't always the answer. The medical profession in general is too quick to prescribe these drugs".

When she was 21 she admitted to her mother that she needed help. Anne-marie Channon took Amy to a GP and she was referred for counselling to Coolgreaney House and then to St. Michael's psychiatric unit in Clonmel, which her mother said was very good, and which has since closed.

She had also admitted taking heroin and it was her addiction to speed and prescription medication that eventually led to her death.

"She just seemed adamant she would press that self-destruct button", her mother said.

Drug addiction returned to haunt the family on May 3 last when Anne-marie Channon's brother Christopher was discovered dead in the former Clonmel Arms Hotel, where he had been squatting with others. A 43 year-old heroin addict, he was homeless and had only been released from prison a few weeks before his death.

"He had detoxed in prison but within three days of his release he was back on heroin", she said. He had suffered from associated health problems including epilepsy, a heart condition and mental health problems.

"Without the proper resources and support from the HSE, the County Council, the Gardaí and landlords, homeless people like my brother won't get the help they need", she says.

"The resources are so few and far between. People are saying that homelessness is over-exaggerated but it's not, and suicide rates are increasing all the time".

She says people, especially parents, need to be more aware that drug dealers are targeting young people. One of her sons was offered drugs when he was only 12 while she knows of another teenager who started taking tablets when he was 13.

"Businesses also need to be aware of people using their bathrooms to take drugs".

She believes that early intervention is key and that more education on the dangers of taking illegal drugs is needed at both primary and secondary school level.

Anne-marie Channon said that the local community, including the school, in Lisronagh have been tremendous in their support for the family since her daughter died.

While she says that the service offered by the Barnardos group in Clonmel has also been great she says her grandchildren will need further counselling and support.

"They'll all need help to cope with losing their mother at such a young age".

The March for Change in Clonmel on Saturday week starts at the Main Guard at 1pm and will continue down Sarsfield Street and along the Quay and Joyce's Lane before returning to the Main Guard via the West Gate and O'Connell Street.

There the speakers will include Deputy Seamus Healy and Cllr. Martin Browne, as well as Anne-marie Channon.

She is grateful to the support that Eddie Reade and Elaine Wall of the soup kitchen, which supplies free food to the needy, have offered her to organise the event.