Tragedy of drugs worker who died of accidental overdose

The tragic tale of a man who battled drug addiction for three decades and helped others to gain sobriety before finally succumbing to his illness unfolded at an inquest.

Friday, 13th April 2018, 4:20 pm
Updated Friday, 13th April 2018, 4:41 pm
Stephen Boyce

An inquiry at Bolton Coroner’s Court into the death of Stephen Boyce, from Golborne, heard the former drug and alcohol misuse worker died after taking a combination of heroin and prescription medications at Brookfield sheltered accommodation complex.

The court was told how the 46-year-old dad-of-three had started to take class A drugs including cocaine and speed at the age of 17, progressing to heroin by the age of 20.

His mum, Eileen, told the coroner that her son had been fine as a young boy but that his mental state was “affected” in his late teens when his first serious partner got an abortion.

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“He never really got over it”, she told Mr Walsh. “Following that he became more insular and spent a lot of time on his own. He started to have mental health problems together with alcohol problems. He did have periods in hospital because of his mental health.”

Shortly after this he met his ex-partner and had a son, Ben, who is now 25-years-old. But he continued to drink and eventually sought treatment in rehab.

Six years later he went on to have two more children with a different partner. After they were taken from their mum, the children went on to live with Mr Boyce’s parents, where the youngest son remains today.

“He went through a more stable period and volunteered at Haigh Hall,” Mrs Boyce recalled. “He enjoyed working and there was some improvement.”

Following this, around 13 years ago; Mr Boyce took up a position as a volunteer for Wigan and Leigh Drug and Alcohol team, eventually becoming a paid member of staff.

Martine Simm, a recovery worker with Addaction, said: “He was very successful as a drug worker. He seemed to have turned his life around.

“Then there was a relapse in 2009. The relapse was with crack cocaine and alcohol which let to him losing his employment with the drug service.

“He detoxed in 2010 and there seemed to be a recovery to an extent but in 2014 he started to use again. He effectively had a stop-start where he appeared to be able to recover but something caused him to relapse again on each occasion.”

In April 2017, Mr Boyce accessed more help for his addiction but had soon relapsed and was back in rehab by September.

Martin Ryan, operations manager for the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), told the coroner how he tried to help Mr Boyce find accommodation when he was kicked out of rehab in Liverpool for his behaviour.

The Wigan Council employee found Mr Boyce temporary accommodation at the Brookfield complex while he sorted a more permanent fixture for him at Cranleigh.

It was here that a the recovering addict was found by staff on Sunday, December 10, having taken an accidental overdose of heroin surrounded by used hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia.

The inquest heard from Dr Naveen Sharma who said that the toxicity of mixed drugs to treat his pyschosis, all of which have similar effects of relaxation and suppression of the nervous system, had led to Mr Boyce’s death.

He recorded that the predominant drug found was heroin, and that due to Mr Boyce’s on-off relationship with drugs, his tolerance may have been lower than when he was a regular user.

Mr Walsh credited Mr Boyce for his work with the drug and alcohol treatment services, saying: “He was one of these few people who had the ability to stop using and recover for periods of time.

“During one of these recoveries it’s remarkable that he was employed by the drug and alcohol service and gave very good service, to assist others to stop using drugs.

“That’s why it’s very sad that he relapsed. I can find no other reason for the drug use other than his difficult domestic life and the fact that he may have associated with other like-minded people.”.

Mr Walsh concluded that Mr Boyce died of a drug-related death and that he had not intended to take his own life.