By Jon Silverman
Home affairs analyst
When drug addiction takes its toll, the families of users often find they are left to cope with the tragic consequences alone, as these mothers tell.
Desperate worry for a loved one
From the beginning of April, the government increased the amount it spends on providing treatment for drug addicts in England and Wales by £45 million. Given that half a million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are using Class A substances, the extra cash is going to be spread pretty thinly.
Whitehall is also pledging more support for the parents, carers and families of users. Many of them are mothers and they are often the forgotten victims of the battle against drugs whose voices deserve to be heard more often than they are.
Hope Humphreys runs a bed and breakfast business in Somerset, and a few years ago would have laughed incredulously at the suggestion that she would be giving evidence before a committee of MPs on drugs policy and writing a diary in a national newspaper.
That was before her student son, James, was jailed for two-and-a-half years for possession with intent to supply ecstasy. The tablets were for him and his university friends and it was his first offence of any kind.
Prison sentences are handed out like Smarties - and whatever the term, it's really a life sentence
"It's all very well the government talking about more treatment, but prison sentences are still being handed out like Smarties," she says. "And whatever the term, it's really a life sentence. Having a criminal record has stopped James getting a decent job and the impact on us as a family has been enormous."
High price paid
Another mother, Angela Harrison, knows the truth of that only too well. She has just published her second book about the experience of having a daughter, Jamie, who is a long-term crack addict.
Jamie has plumbed the depths of crime and degradation since she discovered crack as a teenager. She has sold her body as well as drugs, been jailed for cheque fraud and seen her boyfriend horrifically murdered. And the human cost has not merely been to Jamie's life but to those closest to her.
Angela writes of her own - and Jamie's - struggle
Only 30, she has had 12 pregnancies, nine of them aborted. Two of her babies were adopted but it is the impact of her lifestyle on her son, Max, now a teenager, which is the most poignant.
Max has been brought up by Angela, who says: "Max has had to cope with so much in his short life that he's really the adult and his mother, the child. Imagine what it's like for a 12-year-old to come across his mother injecting herself with heroin in the bathroom or to see her after she's taken crack. No wonder he suffers from depression."
Ann Deighton has a 19-year-old daughter, Debbie, who is a recovering heroin and crack addict. Last year, Debbie was given a 12-month community rehabilitation order for shoplifting to pay for her habit.
Ann says: "To hear people talk about treatment, you would think that once they're on medication, the battle is half over. It's really just begun. Getting them to change their life is the hard part and you get precious little help to do that."
Shooting up under watchful eyes
In the light of these experiences, much of the media debate about drugs seems straitjacketed. The re-classification of cannabis and the question of state-sanctioned "shooting galleries" for heroin users are the stuff of newspaper editorial columns.
But the everyday grimness of supporting and caring for the addicts and trying to overcome the legacy of a drugs conviction goes on. And all too often, it is the mothers who bear the brunt.
Some of the names in this column have been changed to protect identities. For more information about Angela Harrison's books on life with a crack addict, see Internet links on the right.
Send us your comments:
My brother has been an addict for ten years. He is now attempting to kick it again and the only support I get is from my family and friends. My family has supported my brother - there are those that would not agree with this approach and say 'let him stand on his own two feet'. But what then - let him get carted off to jail and be on that road to nowhere? A practical point is this: My brother is living with me (so he is out of his old environment and hopefully away from temptation). His room could be rented out to generate income to help me pay my mortgage, but because he is my brother he can not get housing benefit and therefore I have to struggle to pay the bills. Couple this with the fact that I'm supporting him on his recovery. I pay my taxes and so do my parents, is it right that when we need help none is forthcoming?
I was given no help whatsoever when I stopped using heroin 5 years ago. My doctor wouldn't prescribe me anything to help. Instead, me and my mum wandered drug areas trying to purchase methadone illegally. My mum monitored my dosage until I was almost clean. Even then, the battle had only just begun. Everything about my life was drug related and I found this the hardest battle of all. I went on holidays with my mum and dad; I began work, just doing anything to keep myself busy. The government should fund a programme before the crack and smack epidemic takes over a generation.
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