Saturday 24 February 2018

'He wasn't 'just another junkie'' - A mother's story of how her tragic son slid into addiction and died aged 23

  • Mum slams emergency caller's reference to her dying son
  • 'He was a son, he was a brother'
  • 'Rehab centres tried to convert him to God'
  • 'He was a quiet kid who went down the wrong road'
  • 'I'll never forget the image of him lying there'
Robert Keyes as a young boy (L) and in his 20s (R)
Robert Keyes as a young boy (L) and in his 20s (R)
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A mother has told of her heartbreak after she heard how her son was referred to as "just another junkie" when an anonymous caller phoned for an ambulance on the day he died.

Robert Keyes (23) was found dead in St Audeon's Park in Dublin on November 8, 2015 - just a month before his 24th birthday.

The inquest into his death heard how a caller, who rang from a sim free phone, described him as "just another junkie" to emergency services.

His mother, Pamela Reynolds, has opened up about the painful experience of dealing with a child struggling with addiction and is calling for people to think twice before they label someone a 'junkie'.

"I hate that word, it's a horrible, disgusting word. Robert wasn't 'just another junkie', he was a son, he was a brother," she told

Originally from Drogheda, Co Louth, Pamela recalled how Robert was a very quiet child growing up, but sadly, he "just went down the wrong road".

Robert Keyes died in November 2015 aged 23
Robert Keyes died in November 2015 aged 23

He started smoking weed at the age of 16 and later became addicted to heroin.

"He was very easy going, probably too easy going, so I think that's how he struggled to say no. He hated school and I think that was part of the problem too," she said.

Before his death, he had been clean from heroin for seven weeks following a 'cold turkey' detox.

She remembers the day he died vividly, and the last image she has of her son is one that will stay with her forever.

"It was a horrible, rainy day and I didn't even get his clothes back," she said.

"When they found him, he had a needle stuck in his groin, I didn't hear that until the day of the inquest last week.

Robert with his little sister Rachel
Robert with his little sister Rachel

"That image of him just lying there, it's one that I will take with me to my grave."

Despite numerous attempts to check Robert into rehab centres, he could never overcome his battle with drugs.

She claims one centre wouldn't admit him because he had a cut on his leg and another centre tried to convert him to God.

Pamela still has the letters he wrote to her while he was going through his detox back in 2013.

Robert was a
Robert was a "quiet child" growing up

"People are very quick to judge in Ireland. If I was an alcoholic, people wouldn't look at me like I was scummy, but when it's drugs, they stigmatise you.

"When I tried to help him, he would say 'Mam, you don't even smoke, you don't have a clue what this is like,' and I didn't."

Pamela has two other kids, aged 18 and 10.

She described the guilt she feels following Robert's death as he had moved out of the family home.

"I always say I could have done better but no matter what you do, you can't help them unless they want to help themselves.

"They become so good at lying and stealing to feed their habit and I couldn't have him injecting in front of his younger brother and sister. You're made to choose between your kids, it's horrific," she said.

Before Robert died, he hadn't signed in at his local garda station and Pamela became worried.

After raising concerns with gardaí, she claims one guard said to her: "I wouldn't worry too much, he is probably just in a den shooting up".

"They didn't look at him like he was a person who had a family, they didn't look at him as someone who needed help," she said.

"The Robert I knew was good natured and soft, he had a lovely temperament, but he went the wrong way and there was no way back."

She is calling for injection centres to be introduced in Ireland and for rehab centres to focus less on religion and more on the person.

"Robert would ring me and say, 'Mam, they're trying to make me become addicted to religion instead, telling me that God will save me.'

"I don't want people to end up where Robert did, lying in that park. I definitely think there should be somewhere they can go to use. There is only a short space of time you have to be saved if you overdose. My son was lying in that park from 1pm and he wasn't found until 5, with a needle stuck in his groin."

His younger sister is now in college and wants to work with recovering addicts.

"She told me she'd like to try and help people when they come out of prison, she wants to help people like Robert."

A toxicology report found he had xanax, valium, heroin and a metabolite of cocaine in his system on the day he died.

The jury at the inquest returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, contact Drug and Alcohol Information and Support on 1800 459 459

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