Fake prescription drugs left my son brain damaged

Joe began buying what he believed were genuine diazepam and Xanex pills from the internet to help with anxiety.

But he became addicted to the fake pills – which he continued to believe were real – and earlier this year they almost killed him.

Joe had struggled with shyness in his late teens and, like many, he found moving away to university a challenge.

But when the 23-year-old returned home to rural mid Wales after his first year, mum Sarah was initially excited to see changes in him.

“I would say his personality had changed,” said Sarah.

“He was much louder and almost like a little bit brash. Naively, I thought he’d just come out of his shell.”

What Sarah didn’t know was Joe – not their real names – had begun to self-medicate with what he believed were genuine diazepam and Xanax pills bought online in an effort to help with his anxiety.

It wasn’t long before his family noticed other changes in him too.

“He go through phases of sleep walking, mood changes, very dilated pupils,” said 25-year-old Alex, Joe’s older sister.

“I asked him to talk to me as a sibling, I said I wouldn’t say anything to mum and dad, but he never did.”

When he returned to university for his second year, his mum began to get phone calls from him in the middle of the night.

“He said ‘I’ve been using prescription drugs to try and help myself and I think it’s getting out of control,'” said Sarah.

“I became aware he was buying them on the internet and that he was using them to address his mental health issues. He’d researched what he thought he needed to take – and in his mind he’d tackled the problem.

“But as things got worse I think he became very afraid that he was being overtaken by the addiction.”

When he was at home normal-looking packages would arrive for him – inside were what he believed to be prescription drugs. He eventually showed his mum them, hoping to reassure her.

Prescription drugs have to be prescribed by your GP but many people, like Joe, are going online to buy pills that they believe are legitimate to avoid consulting with a doctor.

“It was mostly diazepam,” she said. “It was in fully printed and marked packaging with batch numbers, dates and the information leaflet inside.

“To me they were the genuine drugs – and to Joe they were the genuine drugs.

“He used to say to me ‘I know not to take too many, I know how many I should take, I’m in control, don’t worry mum.’

“It didn’t for one minute enter my mind that it wasn’t what it said on the tin.”

However the pills weren’t what they claimed to be.

According to drugs testing lab Wedinos, between 45% to 65% of benzodiazepines sent in for testing, which include diazepam and Xanax, are actually fakes.

These pills can use unregulated and much stronger ingredients, frequently leaving users with pills up to 10 times stronger than what they think they are taking.

Joe had no idea the pills he was taking were fake. Earlier this year his mum went to wake him, only to find he had overdosed.

“I could see as soon as I approached the door that he was lying across his bed,” recalled Sarah.

“The look of him, the feel of him, it just said to me ‘he’s dead, he’s gone.’

“I just became hysterical. There was no-one in the house. I dialled the emergency services – and I couldn’t speak – I was just shouting.”

The paramedics battled to save Joe’s life for hours. Eventually a decision was made to try to move him to hospital.

Sarah was told he could die on the way down the stairs, let alone the long journey to the nearest emergency department.

Joe had suffered a cardiac arrest. He survived, but suffered major brain damage.

“The prescription drugs that Joe had been buying on the internet were not legitimate,” she said.

“It wasn’t what he believed, and I believed, was in the tablets.

Some drugs charities in Wales say referrals for benzodiazepines have gone up 150% in the past year, with many warning about the dangers of buying pills online.

“It is incredibly easy to be deceived,” said Josie Smith, national lead for substance misuse at Public Health Wales.

“We’re seeing very clever marketing of tablets that look exactly as you would find from a prescribed medication. Even in the blister packs, with the packaging, it can look really like a medication.

“Certainly in the past few years, not only in Wales but also right across in Europe, we know these drugs have become incredibly easy to obtain. They’re highly available, even promoted through particular website or social media.

“I think that’s the challenge that we need to address, to inform and to increase awareness around the risk of not knowing what it is that you’re taking – even if it looks like something you’ve been prescribed in the past.”

For Joe, just 23 and still – several months later – fighting for his life, it is too late.

But his family are speaking out in the hope of raising awareness.

“Joe’s story is still unfolding,” said his sister Alex.

“But if we can help even one family, to not go through what we’re going through, then that would be job done.”

The names of Joe and his family have been changed to protect their identities.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this story, the BBC Action Line can offer help and support.

Brexit: UK and EU urge compromises over Irish Sea border checks

The UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost has urged the EU to show “common sense” during talks over post-Brexit rules in Northern Ireland.

The Tory peer will meet his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London on Wednesday to discuss ways to reduce disruption at the Irish Sea border.

Some delayed border checks are due to start next month, but both sides are calling on each other to compromise.

Mr Sefcovic has warned against “quick fixes” to border issues.

The UK and EU officials have been locked in talks over simplifying the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the UK’s 2019 Brexit withdrawal deal.

This created a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in order to prevent goods checks along the Irish land border.

That has required new border checks on GB goods going to Northern Ireland, causing disruption to some food supplies and online deliveries.

The UK has unilaterally pushed back the full implementation of checks on supermarket goods and parcels to ease this disruption – prompting the EU to accuse the UK of undermining the protocol and beginning legal action.

The next phase of controls, on chilled meat products like sausages and mince, is due to begin on 1 July when a jointly-agreed grace period ends.

Ahead of this week’s negotiations, Mr Sefcovic – a vice-president of the European Commission – has warned the UK against unilaterally extending this deadline too.

He said that if this were to happen, the EU “will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations”.

Ahead of the meeting, Lord Frost said: “time is short and practical solutions are needed now to make the protocol work”.

“I look to the EU to show flexibility and engage with our proposals so that we can find solutions that enjoy the confidence of all communities,” he said.

He added that “further threats of legal action and trade retaliation” would not help consumers or businesses based in Northern Ireland.

“What is needed is pragmatism and common sense solutions to resolve the issues as they are before us,” he added.

Earlier this week, Lord Frost admitted the UK had “underestimated” the effect of the protocol in Northern Ireland, but also accused the EU of “legal purism” in how it has been interpreted.

Mr Sefcovic denied the EU had been inflexible, saying it had shown it was prepared to “find creative solutions when required”.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday evening, he said the two sides were “approaching the crossroads” in how they deal with border issues.

“We can have two possible roads. One is road of cooperation, show and action and constructive engagement,” he said.

“The other would lead us to more, to a difficult situation which would be generated by further unilateral actions.”

“I hope that with Lord Frost we will find tomorrow the solutions to clearly opt for the first path, because only that will bring us to the long lasting solutions and not quick fixes.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she will also raise Northern Ireland issues with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

As well as meeting to discuss issues in Northern Ireland, the UK and EU are set to hold their first-ever set of official talks over implementing the post-Brexit trade deal agreed late last year.

Among issues to be discussed are law enforcement co-operation, fees for visa applications and tensions over fishing rights.

Tunbridge Wells: Skinners Kent schools closed after data breach

Two schools have closed after hackers broke into their servers, stole data and encrypted pupil information.

Officials at the Skinners’ Kent Academy and Skinners’ Kent Primary School said they “cannot be sure” exactly what information hackers have access to.

But they urged parents at the Tunbridge Wells schools to contact their banks to let them know that personal details could have been taken.

Action Fraud and the National Cyber Security Centre are investigating.

The police and the trust’s own data protection company are also carrying out inquires after the attack, which began last Wednesday.

Skinners Kent Academy Trust said on its website that the hackers told them what information they have access to.

It said they did not “appear” to have access to the School Information Management System, which is where personal records for pupils, students and staff are held.

“However, they have encrypted this data so that we no longer have access to it,” the trust added.

As staff no longer hold vital information on the pupils – including emergency contact details – the decision was taken to close the schools on Monday.

The trust is now in the process of collecting all this data from parents again, before it can reopen.

The schools must also have their computers reconfigured so staff can access the resources required to teach. The schools set up remote learning on Tuesday.

The statement on the trust’s website advised parents: “It would be very wise to let your bank know that your bank details may have been taken.”

A trust spokeswoman described the hackers as “sophisticated”.

She added: “The trust is working incredibly hard to ensure that our students and pupils are back in our schools…..as soon as it is possible to do so.”

Billionaires challenge Highlands space port plan

Billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen have asked a senior judge to overturn planning permission for a space port in the Highlands.

The couple own land near the proposed Space Hub Sutherland and have concerns about its impact on protected areas.

Their company Wildland Ltd has raised the legal action against Highland Council’s planning approval.

The project’s backers have said the site, which would be the first of its kind in the UK, will create new jobs.

Planning permission for the facility is being challenged in a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Lawyers for the Povlsens argued that documents showed Highland Council did not appear to have properly considered the impact that people visiting the site could have on the local environment.

Advocate Malcolm Thomson QC said: “There’s nothing about visitor viewing facilities, car parking, nothing of that nature.

“There are the obvious difficulties about keeping people out of the LEZ (launch exclusion zone) – there’s no physical demarcation of it.”

Public agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has proposed building the facility for launching small satellites on the Moine Peninsula, an area of peatland and crofts on the Highlands’ north coast.

HIE has said the project will create jobs and help boost the Highlands’ and wider Scottish economy.

Highland Council received 457 objections and 118 representations in support of HIE’s planning application.

The impact on the environment, including the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area, and risk to human health were among the reasons for objections.

The local authority approved the plans in June and referred its decision to the Scottish government for scrutiny.

In August, Scottish ministers said the plans did not require a decision at national level and should be dealt with by Highland Council.

Danish businessman Mr Povlsen, who is reportedly worth £4.5bn thanks to his Bestseller clothes retail empire, first visited the Highlands on an angling holiday with his parents in the 1980s.

He bought the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms for £8m in 2006.

Since then, the billionaire, who is the biggest single shareholder in the Asos online retailer, and his wife have bought up huge swathes of the Scottish countryside. They now own about 220,000 acres across 12 estates.

The hearing before Lord Doherty continues.

DUP Stormont team: Little sign of healing, say outgoing ministers

Two outgoing DUP ministers have criticised Edwin Poots’ choice of Stormont appointments as showing a lack of “healing” within the party.

The successors to Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Education Minister Peter Weir were announced on Tuesday.

Mrs Dodds said it was “regrettable” the new team did “not match the rhetoric about healing and bringing the party together”.

Her post on Twitter was retweeted by former leader Arlene Foster.

MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who was defeated in a leadership contest by Mr Poots last month, and Gavin Robinson also retweeted the post.

A number of DUP members have quit over concerns about the party’s direction since Mr Poots’ election.

In a second tweet, Mrs Dodds said unionism could only grow “if it is generous, inclusive and encourages as many pro-Union voters to the cause as possible”.

“I will continue in my efforts to safeguard the Union and make Northern Ireland the best place to live, work and invest,” she added.

Mr Weir said there had been “some great appointments” but that he was “disappointed to leave education”.

He added: “In the balance of appointments it is sad there is little sign of healing or reaching out.”

Responding to Mrs Dodds’ comments, Mr Poots said he accepted that she “probably isn’t in the best place today”.

“I have been in that circumstance twice before where I’ve been a minister and I’ve been asked to step aside for others. And therefore that is a natural reaction,” he said.

However, he added that it was “inaccurate” to say his team was only made up of his supporters.

“This team includes people who didn’t vote for me, who did vote for me and who didn’t declare their intentions,” he said.

Mr Poots also rejected allegations made by some resigning DUP members that there had been bullying and intimidation from members of his camp during the leadership contest.

He said the DUP was “a party that will reach out to people and I, as a leader, am not someone who is either scary or bullying – I want to nail that absolutely and factually”.

“If anybody wants to bring forward facts, they will be investigated, and they will be investigated fairly,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Poots announced his new ministerial team would be:

The appointments will come into effect on Monday, allowing Mrs Foster to host the British-Irish Council meeting in County Fermanagh on Friday.

It comes after Mr Poots admitted party members “have been bruised” over its leadership election.

Speaking to BBC NI’s Spotlight, which is to be broadcast on Tuesday night, he described the resignations of a number of party members as “peripheral, but nonetheless I don’t want to lose anybody from the party”.

He also said the party could take “a little time to heal” and that he did not believe there had been attempts to sabotage his leadership.

His comments came after the resignation of DUP councillors Glyn Hanna and Kathryn Owen, along with others in the party’s South Down association.

Mr Hanna said there was a “culture of fear” in the party and claimed he witnessed “bullying” at last month’s meeting of the DUP executive, during which Mr Poots’ election as DUP leader was ratified by party members.

He alleged that people who had put their hands up at the meeting in support of a secret ballot on the leadership were told to put them down.

That claim was backed up by party member Roberta McNally, who was also at the DUP executive meeting and has also resigned.

The vote to hold a secret ballot was defeated, but DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley, who was ratified that night along with Mr Poots, has said a secret ballot should have been held to affirm Mr Poots’ leadership.

All key positions on the front bench and back bench in terms of ministers and assembly committees have been filled.

The Poots team has indicated today that these changes will not take effect until next week at the earliest. That is to allow Arlene Foster to remain as first minister until she attends the British-Irish Council meeting on Friday.

Adopting this tactic of announcing his new team, but saying they won’t take up their positions immediately, allows a period of time to allow Mrs Foster to see out her days as first minister.

We may well see Mrs Foster tendering her resignation on Monday, which then would allow Team Poots to move in and put his people on the benches on Monday evening, or perhaps Tuesday.

But who knows? Predicting the DUP over the course of the past five weeks has been a bit of a lottery.

Mr Poots said he did not accept that there is a problem of misogyny in the party.

“I have personally only ever been respectful to all of the women in our party, and encouraged them. Politics is a very hostile place, and a lot of women don’t like that level of hostility,” Mr Poots said.

“It is for us to ensure that we can make our arguments strongly, but also respectfully.”

Mr Poots said the personal abuse he receives – and Arlene Foster has received – as a politician is “massive”.

The vote to make Mr Poots leader and Ms Bradley deputy leader came amid anger from within the party about how Arlene Foster was ousted.

But Ms Bradley said there was no “purge” taking place in the party.

Spotlight is on BBC One NI at 22:45 BST on Tuesday.

Prince Charles happy after Harry and Meghan announce birth of baby girl

The Prince of Wales has described the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter as “happy news” during a visit to Oxford.

Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor was born on Friday morning in a hospital in Santa Barbara, California.

Prince Charles made the comment about his granddaughter during a tour of a production plant in Cowley.

He also toured Somerville College and Oxford Botanic Garden during his visit to the city.

The prince was highlighting the importance of leaving a sustainable legacy for future generations when referring to Prince Harry and Meghan’s second child.

Lili is the Queen’s 11th great-grandchild and is eighth in line to the throne.

The prince’s visit to the plant was to celebrate innovations in the production of electric vehicles in the UK.

Charles also celebrated the contribution female students have made to Oxford University with his visit to Somerville College, one of the first in Oxford to admit women.

The college is celebrating its 140th anniversary and marking 100 years of degrees for women.

It was established as a place for women to study during the late Victorian era, and began admitting men in 1994.

When the prince was introduced to a man amongst a group of students there, he joked: “They do allow men in.”

The botanic garden, where Charles helped plant a black pine during his tour, is also celebrating an anniversary – its 400th.

Prince Harry and Meghan said they named their second child Lilibet after the Royal Family’s nickname for the Queen, the baby’s great-grandmother.

Lili’s middle name, Diana, was chosen to honour her “beloved late grandmother”, the Princess of Wales, the couple said in a statement.

Prince Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, had their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, in 2019.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall previously tweeted: “Congratulations to Harry, Meghan and Archie on the arrival of baby Lilibet Diana. Wishing them all well at this special time.”

Appeal bid by Alex Salmond trial blogger refused

A judge has refused a former diplomat permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court over his eight-month jail term for breaching a court order.

Craig Murray was jailed for eight months over blogs he wrote about the trial of Alex Salmond.

The former ambassador to Uzbekistan wanted to challenge the decision at Britain’s highest court.

But Lady Dorrian ruled Murray’s lawyers had not made the case to allow this to happen.

The UK Supreme Court allows people to appeal directly to it in the event of another court refusing to grant permission to proceed to the Supreme Court and this is what Murray intends to do.

Lady Dorrian agreed to continue Murray’s bail for a further month to allow him to make the application to the Supreme Court.

The court had previously heard how Murray posted a series of articles online about the former first minister’s High Court trial in 2020.

Prosecutors raised concerns that complainers could be identified via his writing, breaching a court order.

Murray’s advocate Roddy Dunlop QC had argued that the case should be allowed to proceed to the UK Supreme Court as it raised legal points which needed to be addressed.

But in a written judgement, Lady Dorrian concluded that Murray’s case did not need to be referred to Britain’s highest court.

She wrote: “In its determination the court considered the rationale for the protection of anonymity, and the fact that it extends beyond the rights of complainers in the individual case to providing comfort to those who maybe considering reporting a sexual offence.

“It considered that the actions of the applicant were such as struck at the heart of the fair administration of justice.

“Having reached the conclusion that there are no arguable points of law arising, the court will refuse the application.”

Mr Dunlop had previously argued that sending Murray to prison would be “harsh to the point of being disproportionate” and urged judges to deal with the matter by way of a fine.

Mayra Zulfiqar shooting death: Lahore police arrest man

A man has been arrested by police in Lahore in connection with the murder of a London woman killed in Pakistan.

Zahir Jadoon was held over the death of Mayra Zulfiqar, 25, who was found shot and strangled in a flat on 3 May.

Mr Jadoon is thought to have been in a relationship with Ms Zulfiqar. Her uncle alleges Mr Jadoon and another man threatened his niece after she turned down their marriage proposals.

Mr Jadoon’s lawyer denies his client had any involvement in her murder.

His brother and driver had previously been detained.

In legal documents Ms Zulfiqar’s uncle had named Mr Jadoon and another man as suspects in the case.

The second man named by Ms Zulfiqar’s uncle has not been arrested and is currently co-operating with the investigation, according to the man’s lawyer.

The BBC has previously reported that she had asked police for protection after accusing a man of abducting her at gunpoint and attempting to sexually assault her.

The law graduate had been threatened by two men who both wanted to marry her, according to legal documents.

She said she managed to run away by alerting bystanders, but the man threatened her, saying: “You won’t be able to escape; I will kill you.”

Dalian Atkinson: PC defends using baton on ex-footballer

A police constable has said it was absolutely necessary to hit former footballer Dalian Atkinson with her baton after he had been tasered.

PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 31, told a jury she did it to protect herself and her colleague.

She denies a charge of assault and said she was terrified during the incident in Telford, Shropshire, in August 2016.

Her colleague, PC Benjamin Monk, denies murdering Mr Atkinson and also denies an alternative manslaughter charge.

The prosecution alleges West Mercia Police probationary constable Bettley-Smith acted unlawfully after Mr Atkinson had been tasered by PC Monk outside his father’s house in Meadow Close, Trench.

Giving evidence in the sixth week of a trial at Birmingham Crown Court, PC Bettley-Smith said “I recall that he opened the front door and was there, this huge figure. He appeared very, very angry – probably the angriest person I have ever seen in my life.”

She added: “I remember his eyes bulging out of his head. His chest was puffed up … his stance made me think he was ready to fight.”

PC Bettley-Smith, a social work graduate who joined the force in February 2015, said she had pressed an emergency alarm button for urgent help, because she believed the situation to be life-threatening.

“I said in my interview that my life flashed before my eyes and that is no exaggeration – I was absolutely terrified,” she said.

After Mr Atkinson – who played for Aston Villa, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday – was tasered and fell to the ground she said she hit him three times with her baton, aiming at his thighs, to prevent him from getting back up.

She told the jury: “It was at this point when I decided I needed to strike Mr Atkinson with my baton. Unless it was absolutely necessary, I would never have used my baton that night.

“I struck him to prevent him from getting up and protect myself and Ben.

“If he was successful in getting up, I genuinely thought he would seriously hurt me.”

The court has previously heard PC Monk used a Taser on Mr Atkinson for 33 seconds after the first two attempts to use a Taser on him failed.

He also admitted he kicked Mr Atkinson but said it was not-targeted and “instinctive”. He has challenged witness accounts that he then rested his boot on the sportsman’s head.

The trial continues.

Dea-John Reid: Teens in court accused of murdering boy, 14

Two teenagers charged with murdering a 14-year-old boy have been remanded in custody.

Dea-John Reid died from a stab wound to his chest in Kingstanding, Birmingham, on 31 May.

A 14-year-old boy from Wolverhampton and another boy, 16, from Great Barr, appeared before Birmingham Crown Court earlier.

The defendants were not required to enter a plea and they were ordered to appear at the same court on 5 August.

Five people have been charged with murdering Dea-John, who was confirmed dead at the scene in College Road after the attack at about 19:30 BST.

Michael Shields, 35, George Khan, 38, and another 14-year-old youth, have previously been remanded into custody to appear at the city’s crown court on the same date.

Mr Shields, of Alvis Walk, Castle Bromwich; Mr Khan, of Newstead Road, Birmingham, and the three teenagers are due to stand trial accused of murdering Dea-John on 28 February.

Dea-John, who was Year 9 pupil at Harborne Academy, has been described as “incredibly talented” by his family.

Hundreds of people gathered at a vigil in College Road to remember him on Sunday evening.

Bishop Dr Desmond Jaddoo led the vigil in support of Dea-John’s family including his mother, Joan Morris.

“The outpouring of love and unity in support of Joan and the rest of the family was absolutely immense, many people were in tears,” he said.

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