Wales

Cocaine deaths in Wales 'quadruple in five years'

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Media captionLlinos Môn Owen was dependent on the drug for a decade

Deaths from cocaine poisoning in Wales have more than quadrupled in the past five years, official figures show.

Thirty-one people died from cocaine poisoning last year - compared to seven in 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Hospital admissions in the same period have almost doubled, from 272 to 560.

Llinos Môn Owen, 32, from Anglesey, started taking cocaine aged 18 and would spend £1,000 a month on the habit rather than pay rent or buy food.

She soon spiralled into dependency and the drug took over her life to the detriment of her mental health and relationships.

Image copyright Llinos Môn Owen
Image caption Ms Owen says she "was living on an animal level" after her addiction spiralled

"As the years went by and I went on to take stronger cocaine, I just couldn't stop," she said.

"I was living on an animal level. The only thing I was worried about was using cocaine. I had nothing in the fridge but that didn't matter because I was taking as much cocaine as I could."

After the death of a 34-year-old mother of six last month, north Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones expressed concern at the numbers of deaths in the area connected to the drug.

"People think that cocaine doesn't have a lasting effect, and it does," he said at the time.

This is reflected in what medical staff see during post-mortem examinations.

Image caption Avril Wayte says staff who conduct toxicology reports are seeing an increase in deaths where cocaine was involved

"We find more and more cocaine these days," said Avril Wayte, head of the department at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor that carries out toxicology reports for the coroner.

"In the 1990s, we wouldn't find anything much. But in the first six months of this year we've found cocaine in 20 post mortems," she said.

"People think that cocaine isn't that bad. They think 'I can take cocaine on Saturday night, no problem, fine, it won't affect me.

"But someone can have a stroke or heart attack. Cocaine really affects the heart. There are so many things that can happen where the heart stops beating and someone dies."

For the past two years, Ms Owen has been attending recovery sessions at Bangor's Penrhyn House and now wants to raise awareness about the potential harm of the drug.

"Addiction doesn't just affect one person, it affects families and all those around that person," she explained.

Image caption Ms Owen has turned her life around and now wants to raise awareness about how harmful the drug is

"I lost my job, I lost my sanity. I almost lost my family.

"They just didn't know what to do with me anymore.

"The impact is massive."

Help and advice on drug addiction and recovery is available from the BBC Action Line.

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