Terry Prone: It's easy to say that Gerry's drug use harmed no one. The problem is it's not true

Terry Prone

The continuing controversy over the cause of Gerry Ryan's death demonstrates that when it's a stranger who breaks the law or becomes addicted to illegal drugs, we condemn them.

But when it's a friend who uses or gets hooked, it's very different.

The evidence may be the same, but what's not the same is how we interpret that evidence. Because Gerry Ryan was a friend to hundreds of thousands of listeners, those listeners were shocked by the idea that he died with cocaine in him, and doubly shocked by the clear indications that he had been doing the drug for a long, long time.

This man's unexpected death stopped a nation in its tracks for several days. Listeners swopped memories of growing up with his comforting cheeky presence on the radio. His friends gathered around to help his family. His colleagues talked of him with warm affection.


When the facts behind his death came to public knowledge, it would have been easy for fans and friends to decide they had been conned.

That hasn't happened.

Indeed, there's been a notable reluctance to let go of the old image of Gerry Ryan as a high-living star who relished every aspect of his life and substitute a new picture of a man who may have needed a line of coke in order to kick-start his day. His family have led the way, contenting themselves with a statement affirming their love for the dead man and affirming also, their belief in him as a father.

Other friends and colleagues have tried to make sense of the news by minimising it. He harmed nobody but himself, they suggest; he had the money to spend, he was discreet, nobody outside of himself was harmed.

It's comforting, that interpretation.

But it's not true.

Cocaine isn't a prescription drug manufactured in properly regulated pharmaceutical plants. It's a dangerously addictive product of cartels who deal out murder and mayhem in the interest of profit. Every stage in its propagation and distribution is marked by terror and death. Anybody who buys the product at the end of this lethal supply chain can fool themselves that their particular batch of cocaine is exceptional and has not been brought to them through a multiplicity of criminal actions. Anybody who's stupid, that is. Gerry Ryan was a clever man, and he would have been in no doubt about the wider, long-distance and invisible consequences of his drug spend.

The great French detective Locard once said that "every contact leaves a trace." He meant that anybody at a crime scene leaves a trace of themselves -- a drop of blood, a fingerprint -- and takes away something, even something as small as a hair.

It's the same with addictions. The drug-taker may kid themselves that nobody is touched by their habit other than themselves, but the traces are left, nonetheless. Money that could have been better spent goes to a drug dealer and adds up, over time, to so big an amount that other people lose out. Promises are made and broken, leaving the person to whom the promise was made with a permanent sense of betrayal and mistrust.


This does not mean that Gerry Ryan should be condemned. On the contrary. Nobody knows precisely how or why his drug use started or how dependent he was at the end. All we know is that this man suffered a lonely early death and his private life is now public to a degree which would have horrified him.

It does mean, though, that we shouldn't create invalid excuses for others. Continuing affection for Gerry Ryan should not make us ignore the truth. And the truth is that cocaine use funds murder and corruption. It steals money from loved ones. It destroys careers, health, happiness and sometimes life itself.

It's NEVER a case of one user hurting themselves alone.