A heartbroken Angus woman has pleaded for a crackdown on “legal highs” she believes killed her 33-year-old brother this week.
Michael McKay, from Arbroath, died in hospital after a four-month addiction to new psychoactive substances (NPS) destroyed his heart and left him “looking like a vampire”.
The father-of-three, a recovering heroin addict who fell in to drug use because of mental illness, died of complications arising from endocarditis on Tuesday.
Laura McKay wants her brother’s death to highlight how vulnerable a section of society is to “dangerous” unregulated and untested substances.
She spoke out on the day it was revealedthe number of deaths involving so-called legal highs more than doubled last year.
She showed The Courier a photograph of Michael taken in March, as he started using NPS regularly, and one on his bed at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
He had lost four stones in a matter of months.
“I think I’m past being angry he was an adult who knew what he was doing,” she said. “But I want people to know how these drugs killed Michael, and make sure no one’s children or brothers have to go through what he did.”
She added: “A lot of people in Arbroath thought he was a kind, lovable man. He was just extremely lost.”
Michael split up with his partner five years ago and became addicted to valium on prescription, which doctors stopped.
“He couldn’t deal with the side effects so he said he started using heroin.He started smoking it first,” the 35-year-old added.
“Then, when he cleaned up, I think he used the legal highs because he couldn’t deal with anything emotionally.”
Michael came off heroin in February and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in March.
He began taking NPS in May and fell ill this month, with what doctors initially thought was pneumonia before discovering infection around his heart valves.
Laura said his condition had improved at the beginning of this week, following a course of antibiotics.
“On Monday they were very positive about Michael’s treatment and he was responding well to antibiotics,” she said.“I left him at 8.45pm, gave him a cuddle and said I loved him loads. And that was it. 12.10am, he was gone.”
Michael, who had been addicted toheroin for five years, had seen “highs and lows” in his life, according to Laura, but she believes his life became far worse when he discovered the substances.
She has lauded the work of the police-led Tayside Intensive Support Service, which she described as a lifeline for herself and Michael.
She said: “They saw Michael at his worst, saw him come on in leaps and bounds, and saw him deteriorate. They have been with us all the way.”
Carey Allen of the pressure group Arbroath Against Legal High Drugs said: “The main trade for selling these things isn’t young party-goers.
“It’s for vulnerable people like Michael, and there are a lot of people in Angus who are in that situation.
“When you take a legal high, you’ve not got a clue what you’re taking.
“It amazes me Michael started taking legal highs and it took four months to kill him, after being a heroin user for five years.”
Tayside campaigners saygovernment “must act now” to stop the spread of so-called legal highs in Scotland, following the news of another death linked to the drugs.
Concerned Angus residents formed pressure groups when shops selling the chemicals, which are sold as “not fit for human consumption”, opened in their towns.
Montrose and Arbroath Against Legal Highs joined together to fight what they described as a “dangerously escalating problem” on their streets.
Arbroath campaigner Derek Wann expressed his condolences to Michael’s family and pledged pressure will not cease until “the awful trade” of NPS is banned in the UK.
He said: “We were saddened to hear of the death of a young man caused bypossible misuse of so-called legal highs in our own town.
“Our thoughts are with the grievingfamily at this time.The Government and local authorities must now act to ensure these substances are not accessible in Britain.
“We cannot sit back and read about more deaths because of the misuse of NPS.
“We have tried in Angus for eight months now to raise awareness to the dangers of these substances and campaigned tirelessly to stop the sale of these products on our high streets.
“Our campaign will not cease untillegislation has been passed banning NPS from sale in our country.”