Tragic death highlights shortcomings in mental health and social care

4 January 2024

The tragic death of Will Melbourne, a bright and talented teenager, has highlighted shortcomings in mental health support and social care, as well as the dangers of taking non-prescribed medication.

Will Melbourne was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and struggled with his mental health from the age of 16 but received very little formal support from medical and mental health practitioners.

Feeling there was no other viable alternative, Will began to self-medicate to alleviate his depression and anxiety. His mental health slowly deteriorated, and his behaviour became increasingly unmanageable, so much so that his family struggled to support him at home.

The situation eventually became too dangerous for the family and, after several visits from police, Will moved out of the family home into supported accommodation.

Will was living in that supported accommodation during the Covid-19 lockdown in November 2020 but despite being in the family ‘bubble’ his parents and sister were not permitted to visit him.

Still attempting to self-medicate, Will resorted to buying tablets on the dark web – tablets advertised as oxycodone, which Will was hoping would help with his anxiety, but which in fact turned out to be a far more harmful substance called metonitazene. The evidence given by the expert toxicologist at the inquest was that this was an extremely potent opioid, many times stronger than morphine.

At the inquest into Will’s death in December 2023 the coroner returned a verdict of death by misadventure with the cause of death being found to be metonitazene toxicity.

GCN’s Ben McCormack and Gemma Vine from Ison Harrison Solicitors represented Will’s parents throughout the inquest during which it came to light that the police had not tested all the tablets found near Will’s body. Significant work was undertaken on behalf of Will’s parents to ensure that the tablets were analysed and identified as metonitazene.

This case highlights several inadequacies in the care Will received, from a lack of mental health support to failings in the provision of his assisted accommodation.

You can read an interview with the family in this BBC News article and the family have also shared their experiences in an episode of the BBC documentary series The Issue – Investigating His Own Death: Will’s Story, which is available now on BBC iPlayer.

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