A CORONER has highlighted the “scourge” of drugs in Northern Ireland at the inquest into the death of a Clabby man who had significantly high levels of Fentanyl and MDMA in his system.

Graeme Stronge was found lying on a sofa in the living room of his home on Camgart Road in an unresponsive state by one of his brothers, Glen, at 5.30am on May 28, 2017.

Despite efforts to resuscitate him by both his brother and the emergency services, the 36-year-old was pronounced dead several hours later.

A Post Mortem confirmed that his death was due to poisoning by drugs.

Mr. Stronge was found to have a number of drugs in his body, including the heavily regulated pain medication Fentanyl, which is “at least 50 times more potent than morphine”, and MDMA, more commonly known as ‘Ecstasy’.

Former state pathologist, Professor Jack Crane, who carried out the Post Mortem, told the inquest at Omagh Courthouse that both of these drugs were found in “very high levels”, adding that the amount of Fentanyl had been in the “fatal range”.

Prof Crane also said that the amount of MDMA was “higher than we would see with people who would take the occasional tablet”.

The inquest heard that the “combined toxic effect” of these two drugs were responsible for his death.

Coroner Patrick McGurgan told the hearing that the usage of Fentanyl, a controlled drug, was becoming an ever-increasing problem in Northern Ireland, adding: “Very worryingly so.”

He said: “Hopefully, we can highlight the scourge of drugs in Northern Ireland.”

In his evidence, given via videolink, Prof Crane spoke of the “worldwide concern” over the rise in the number of deaths linked to Fentanyl.

The retired pathologist explained that it was only prescribed for patients with “chronic or severe pain”.

While there are strict regulations in place regarding the prescribing and dispensing of Fentanyl, Prof Crane admitted that it did seem to be widely available and could be obtained illicitly on the “black market”.

Mr. Stronge had not been prescribed the drug and it is not known how he came to be in possession of Fentanyl patches that were later found by a police drugs dog behind the clock in his living room.

Prof Crane revealed that, in 2016, there were 10 deaths in Northern Ireland linked to Fentanyl, while in 2017 this number had risen to 13.

“It is becoming a recognised problem here and elsewhere in the UK,” he added.

Describing the drug as “at least 50 times more potent than morphine”, Prof Crane told the inquest: “Therein lies the risk and dangers.”

Mr. Stronge’s oldest brother, Colin, admitted to the hearing that the family were aware that he had a problem with drugs and had tried to talk to him in previous years but “nothing materialised out of it”.

He said that his younger brother had been unable to see his only child after his relationship had broken up and also told the inquest there had been a few bereavements in the family.

“Things seemed to get on top of him,” he said.

Another brother, Glen Stronge, who lived with the deceased in the house at Camgart Road, told the inquest about his efforts to rouse his sibling after finding him lying on the sofa.

Both of his brothers said they were not aware that Graeme had been taking Fentanyl.

But Glen conceded that, in the later years of his life, “drugs got a hold” of his younger brother.

He said: “There was not really any sense talking to Graeme. He was very headstrong.”

Upon finding his brother on the sofa, he immediately rang 999.

“I thought there was some chance of getting him revived. I just thought he was unconscious,” he added.

A PSNI detective constable who attended the scene told the inquest that she was content that there was “nothing suspicious” about the death and it was solely to do with drugs.

Dr. Jo Deehan, who was Mr. Stronge’s last GP, revealed that the deceased, a “poly substance misuser” with a history of anxiety and depression, had made a brief attempt to turn his life around in the summer of 2016, around a year before his death.

The GP told the inquest that, in June and July 2016, he was engaging with the Community Addictions Team (CAT) in an effort to address his drug misuse.

However, by September of that year, Dr. Deehan said he had disengaged with both herself and the CAT and didn’t get any further support – with “tragic consequences”.

When asked by the Coroner whether she believed the deceased intended to take his own life, the GP said that Mr. Stronge would have been aware of the dangers posed by the toxicity of the drugs but she couldn’t say whether it was intentional or accidental.

Dr. Deehan said it was difficult for anyone who wasn’t an addict to understand the powers of addiction.

“It draws the person back despite knowing the risk. It’s a terrible affliction,” she said.

In reaching his finding, the Coroner said that by shining a light on the increasing number of drugs deaths in Northern Ireland, he was hoping that “something positive flows”. Encouraging those in the throes of addiction to try and seek help, Mr. McGurgan warned that, unless it is properly prescribed, he would be dealing with “more and more deaths relating to Fentanyl”. At the end of the inquest, the Coroner passed on his condolences to the Stronge family on the death of their brother.