“I never had that conversation with Jack because I never dreamt it would happen to me,” said Elaine Downey.
She and husband Johnny were “inundated” with letters from the public after their interview in last week’s Sunday Independent about the death of their only child, who collapsed at the Indiependence music festival in Co Cork.
She said parents told her of their fears for sons and daughters travelling to the Electric Picnic festival in Co Laois next weekend.
Catherine Byrne, the junior health minister responsible for the National Drugs Strategy, said she cannot imagine the grief of the families of young people who died from drug use. Ms Byrne said her department was working with student groups and festival organisers to raise awareness of the dangers of drug-taking.
She said: “The HSE is encouraging all festivals to share harm-reduction information, to improve festival safety and to provide a non-judgmental space for people to present if they become unwell.
“They are offering festival medical teams tailored training on emerging drug trends and club drugs.”
Mrs Downey (51), who lives in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, said she fears for the safety of other young people who take drugs at festivals following the death of her 19-year-old son three weeks ago.
“Parents work hard and give everything to their children. And then the way their children behave – it’s very scary,” she said.
“People are feeling a bit helpless. They are doing their best and living on their nerves when their youngsters are out. All these festivals are rampant with drugs. I didn’t realise that. I must have been living under a rock. I think a lot of ordinary people were the same as me. Drugs have become acceptable, but they are not.”
She said parents should start conversations with their teenage and adult children about drug use. And young people need to be mindful of their behaviour as “every action has a consequence”.
“I don’t think anyone should stay silent,” she said. “That’s the trouble. But people are helpless. This concerns everyone’s child. It’s not just a particular type of person who is involved. Drugs are everywhere.
“I feel so frightened with this Electric Picnic festival coming on. Parents are now wondering are their children going to come back from it or are they going to be like us sitting by a hospital bed.”
Almost 500 people were arrested for drug possession at last year’s Electric Picnic, including 45 arrested for possession for sale or supply.
Mrs Downey said she has got strength and comfort from her faith since she and Johnny lost their son. They said they allowed large numbers of Jack’s friends to visit him as he lay dying in Cork University Hospital so they could witness the harm drugs can do.
“Since the Sunday Independent came out last week, we’ve been inundated with letters from all over the country. People we don’t know are writing to us. We are getting the most beautiful letters from people we don’t know and we’ve never met. They read about it and they just put pen to paper. It’s been unbelievable. We got letters with addresses such as ‘The parents of Jack Downey, Clonmel’ and ‘Elaine and Johnny Downey, parents of the late Jack Downey’,” she said.
They do not want Jack or the way he died to be forgotten. “We don’t want it all to fade away. It’s after opening a can of worms and you can’t put the lid back,” she said.
In response to our articles about the drug deaths of college students, Minister Byrne said: “The HSE is currently running a number of initiatives to counteract ecstasy and other drug taking, including a harm reduction campaign through drugs.ie aimed at university students and festival goers.
“While the primary message is abstinence, the HSE is aiming to keep those that choose to use drugs as safe as possible.”
She said the HSE and drug and alcohol taskforces worked with the Department of Education to develop a 12-lesson plan, Know The Score, on drug misuse to be taught in secondary schools this autumn.