While many people with a drug addiction will manage to overcome their illness with the right help and support, there are some who will not manage to get better and will eventually succumb to it. This is exactly what happened to twenty-one-year-old Joanne Bowman from North Belfast, who tragically lost her life on Boxing Day, leaving her devastated family to mourn her passing.

Failed by the System

Joanne’s family have said she was ‘failed by the system’ as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that she is no longer with them. She had been struggling with a devastating drug addiction from the age of eighteen as well as mental health issues.

Joanne’s sister Denise believes that she was let down and they now want to let others know in a bid to prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else. Denise said, “I just feel she was let down. Joanne had ADHD and challenging behaviour growing up, but her mental health deteriorated and she became angry. We took her to places to try and get help but there was nothing, we were met with shut doors. It got to the point she became dependent on drugs and she got that dependent on them we would have to check every day that she was OK.”


Like any other family where one member is struggling with a drug addiction, Joanne’s family did everything they could to try to help. Denise spoke about how they took her to her GP and the mental health ward at the Mater Hospital. She said they were advised that Joanne was in need of counselling, but Denise believes her sister needed a more immediate solution.

She added, “They all said she needed counselling, but she needed something there and then. I took her home, and I spoke to her and told her if she wanted this help she needed to calm down, sometimes she did get irate.”

She went on to say, “We had more episodes of her trying to hurt herself, and we took her back again, but they said they could not do anything because she was a drug addict and needed to come off the drugs first. But she needed other help to come off the drugs first. It is so painful to watch your younger sister go through that.”

Denise says she feared that Joanne would end up dead because of her drug addiction but that nobody was able to help her. Sadly, these concerns were realised on Boxing Day when Joanne was found dead.

In Need of Help

Denise revealed that Joanne had been living with her in her home until a few weeks before Christmas. However, social services said she was a risk to her nephew and was told she had to leave, resulting in her living on the streets. She said, “That was her only support taken away from her. She then had to live on the street and in hostels. It is devastating; she was only 21. There’s a lot of people who have failed her, even to this day. I fought for years for my sister to get help, but we were met with shut doors. My sister was failed, and this should never happen to anyone else.”

Negative Stereotyping

Denise wanted others to know that Joanne was ‘a loving sister, daughter and aunt’ and not ‘just a drug addict’. There is a natural reaction among most people to look down upon those suffering from addiction, particularly a drug addiction. Negative stereotyping means that there is a common perception that those affected by this illness are ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’.

Nevertheless, when describing her drug addict sister, Denise said, “She was beautiful, and she had such a good bond with my son and partner. She was such a loving wee girl, and she would have put a smile on anyone’s face with all the silly things she would come off with. We would sing and dance in the car together and go on lovely long walks. We would have girl’s nights, and we watched Gossip Girl together in a week.”

She added, “She was not just a drug addict; she was a human being with a family who loved her. We just do not want someone else to suffer like this; something needs to be done.”

Help for Addiction

A drug addiction is an illness and one that can affect anyone. It is important to make that point because so many people have a negative image of what drug addiction is. Here at Liberty House Clinic, we treat all types of addiction, including drug addiction.

We know that this is an illness that can be treated provided those affected have adequate help and support. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, please do not hesitate to get in touch now.

Source: Family of North Belfast woman found dead on Boxing Day say she was “failed by the system” (Belfast Live)