A former probation officer was found dead in her bed two days after injecting heroin, a coroner’s court heard on Wednesday.
Suzanne Devlin, a mother-of-four from Comber, Co Down had been a frequent heroin user but an inquest heard she had not taken the drug regularly since 2006.
The 50-year-old’s body was discovered in the bedroom of her home at De Win Drive by her son, Andrew, in February of this year.
Mr Devlin, who recalled trying to revive his mother, said he was unaware she had resumed her drug habit until he found her collapsed on the kitchen floor a day earlier.
“I did not see her take any drugs but I know she was on heroin at that point,” he said.
Mr Devlin also told the hearing at Belfast’s Old Town Hall how he had burnt unused syringes found in his mother’s bedroom after her death.
“I burnt them in the back garden,” he said.
Assistant state pathologist Dr James Lyness said traces of morphine and codeine which are both breakdown constituents of illicitly manufactured heroin were found in Mrs Devlin’s bloodstream during a post mortem.
He said although the levels were at the lower end of the range normally associated with death he could not rule out morphine toxicity as the probable cause of death.
“The fatal sequence could have been initiated with a higher dose following a period of unconsciousness,” said Dr Lyness.
The court heard how Mrs Devlin, who gave up her job to raise her children, had suffered severe stomach problems caused by a tumour in her ovary. She had undergone major surgery in 2006 and was prescribed painkillers.
Some bruising was also found on the body but the pathology report noted that the injuries were consistent with accidental trauma with no evidence of a substantial head injury that could account for her death.
Police constable Feargahl Moran, who attended the scene, said a search of the house was carried out but no drugs or drugs-related paraphernalia were found. He said officers were unable to establish the source of the heroin.
“There were no leads to follow as such for us to look into,” said Constable Moran.
Describing the death as untimely, Coroner Jim Kitson said: “Sadly Suzanne Devlin appears to have died as a direct result of morphine toxicity.
“In the past she was a regular user of heroin but more latterly was an infrequent user.”
Mr Kitson also expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to the family and paid tribute to Mrs Devlin’s son for giving evidence despite the obvious distress.