I guess I was optimistic. I hoped for the best and I could’ve done a lot more. While I don’t punish myself for that – and I know he wouldn’t want me to punish myself – that’s kind of why the work I do now is so important for families.
At the time he was dying, I was having a conversation with Sandra about kids and the love we have for them – whether we express that, whether we do it enough, and whether you knew whether your kids loved you or not. That was an ironic conversation. Then, on the day I found out about his death… I’d gone walking with a mate of mine and we were reflecting on the happiest times of our lives. I was telling him that the happiest times in my life were when I was driving Damien around to all his sport. Then I got the phone call. It was a young constable from Surry Hills Police Station. She said, ‘Are you related to Damien Trimingham?’
‘ Yes, I am his father.’
‘ I wonder if you could come to…’ She didn’t actually say the morgue, ‘Could you come to the coroner’s in Glebe?’
‘Oh, we just want to eliminate your son from our inquiries into a death.’
As soon as I heard that I knew it was the worst, even though she was beating around the bush and really trying not to tell me. I said, ‘What’s happened?’
She said, ‘There was an overdose death in Darlinghurst the other night and we have a deceased person.’
‘There was some identification.’
Of course then I knew. I got some of the way. I just couldn’t drive. I was incapable of driving, so I rang the mate that I’d gone walking with and he came and he drove me the rest of the way. When I got in there, there’s this young police constable and she’s got a file under her arm and it’s headed “Trimingham, Deceased.” All these kind of bizarre, surreal images that stick in my memory. Then they took me to the viewing room. Of course it was Damien.
‘Yeah, that’s him.’
I discovered that the death was preventable, because I read the coroner’s report.
‘How can somebody go from being perfectly normal and functioning, no bodily stuff, and then suddenly be dead?’
Somebody introduced me to this idea of the trifecta of risk, which obviously Damien had: because he hadn’t been using on a regular basis he’d lost his tolerance. Secondly, the alcohol would’ve already slowed his system down and made it much easier to overdose with heroin. Then, because he’d gone to an isolated place because of the illegality, he was very vulnerable.
I thought, ‘Well, this is f****** stupid that people should die from something that really is quite safe if it’s done in a safe environment.’ With a drug that’s probably hard to say, but the best in terms of purity and impact. The only real negative impacts that heroin has are deaths, disease and crime. If they decriminalise and get rid of those three major risks, there’s still the dependency to deal with, but that’s manageable. My anger got diverted then to the ridiculousness of the system that we had. In the late nineties, heroin was like ice is now. It was on the front pages every day. There were some dreadful stories in the Sydney Telegraph. There were all sorts of things on television about it. It was just taking the headlines. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘F***, why do they keep doing the same old stuff?’
– Tony Trimingham is the founder and CEO of Family Drug Support