DRUG use could have triggered the brain haemorrhage that claimed the life of a fun-loving young woman.

Joanna Francis collapsed at her home in Eskdale Place, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, on September 1, 2002.

She was found by a friend and paramedics rushed her to Darlington Memorial Hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival.

An inquest into her death, held in Chester-le-Street Magistrates' Court yesterday, heard how the 22-year-old had ingested amphetamine, also known as speed, hours earlier.

Home Office pathologist James Sunter said the cause of death was a brain haemorrhage due to a rupture of the cerebral artery.

He confirmed the presence of a "substantial level" of amphetamine in her blood.

While this was not enough to have killed her, he said it could have led to an increase in blood pressure, which in turn caused the internal bleeding.

Mark John Winter, of Kimblesworth Walk, Newton Aycliffe, her boyfriend for the six months leading up to her death, told the court how she had suffered from head pains and blurred vision. "She did complain of headaches and her vision would go," he said. "But I put it down to the drugs."

Miss Francis, who was unemployed, was described as a regular user of recreational drugs, but not someone who was drug-dependant.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle said: "We have got here a natural problem which may have been precipitated by someone taking drugs.

"I have no way of determining whether it was an accidental death linked to drugs, or a natural death that had nothing to do with the drugs whatsoever."

He recorded an open verdict.