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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2005, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Living with teenage drug addicts
Andrew Ransom, Ashleigh Reed
Newsnight first came across Andrew and Ashleigh in 2002
Newsnight's Joe Mather reported on the plight of two heroin-addicted cousins in 2002. He returned to Stockton-on-Tees to find out what happened to the teenagers and their poverty-stricken family.

Can you imagine what it's like living with a teenage heroin addict?

For most it's all but unthinkable, but for a minority in Britain today it's just another fact of life.

The old perceptions of grim northern towns are as cliched as they are apt for Stockton-on-Tees, a medium-sized town just west of Middlesbrough.

The story of industrial jobs disappearing and being replaced by unemployment and pockets of chronic deprivation is a familiar one on Teesside.

Less well known is that it's also one of the cheapest and easiest places to buy heroin in the country.

It was here three years ago that a team from BBC Newsnight - filming a story about drug use - bumped into a remarkable family.

Andrew Ransom, 14, and Ashleigh Reed, 16, were cousins - and both were addicted to heroin.

Along with their mothers Maureen and Sandra they gave the most arresting testimony of what it is like to be addicted to hard drugs, or have children who are heroin addicts.

'Yob culture'

Andrew and Ashleigh told us how they would spend whatever money they could get their hands on - sometimes 100 a day - on drugs.

Sandra Reed
Mrs Reed faced the predicament of not knowing how to help

They told us how they would shoplift and steal from their own families to feed their craving and stave off the pains of heroin addiction.

Andrew told us that "you just can't help it... you wake up in a morning and you are bad and you've got aching legs, bad back pains and all that and you just get stressed because you can't help it because you need the money so that is why you go and do daft things for it".

Andrew's mother Sandra explained the predicament of not knowing how to help:

"They make you feel guilty because you won't give them money to get tablets to get them off it and if you give them money for the tablets how do you know they are not buying the drugs?"

The images of these children and their parents speaking so candidly about drug use in the new millennium was truly shocking.

Fast forward three years to 2005 and the start of Labour's third term in office.

The government was making clear their intention to tackle to "yob culture", and bring respect and family values back to the fore.

Newsnight decided that it was time to return to the story of Andrew and Ashleigh to find out how they were getting on.

It was only then that the true tragedy of their lives became clear.

Devastating impact

In November of 2003 US President George Bush was visiting his coalition counterpart in Blair's constituency home of Sedgefield.

Ashleigh Reed
Ashleigh remained an addict for a third of her life

That same evening less than 10 miles away Ashleigh Reed was riding pillion on a motorbike in Stockton.

The driver was disqualified and had no insurance.

They hit a BMW and Ashleigh, wearing a loose fitting helmet, was fatally injured.

She died aged 18 - an addict for a third of her life.

Ashleigh's death had a devastating impact on her cousin Andrew.

He became severely depressed and made several attempts on his life.

He wrote a letter to his dead cousin in which he said that he "didn't expect [her] to go so soon, if anything me first and I just feel like dying... I'm going to miss you so but at this minute in time I feel like killing myself".

He had made efforts to get off drugs but was still on methadone and taking other drugs such as diazepam which he used to try and calm his nerves and take the edge off the pains from the heroin withdrawal.

Accepted norm?

One Friday last summer Andrew sat on a bench eating chips with his girlfriend.

Andrew Ransom
Andrew Ransom's death was not the end of the suffering

Out of the blue he ran out into the road in front of a coach. He died instantly from severe head injuries.

The pathologist found that Andrew had taken at least 10 diazepam.

The inquest recorded an open verdict. Andrew was just 16 years old.

Two teenage cousins, both heroin addicts, had died in the space of eight months.

But that was not the end of the suffering for the two mothers, Sandra and Maureen.

Sandra's other older son had also been a drug addict whilst Maureen had two other daughters addicted to drugs.

One of those daughters has just given birth to a methadone baby whilst the other is a crack addict who feeds her habit through prostitution.

It is difficult to fathom the horrors of what hard drugs have done to these families.

Two lives have been destroyed and yet their siblings continue to use drugs.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the realisation that this kind of drug use has become almost accepted as the norm in parts of the country.

In the end it is just one more story among the many of Britain's problems with drugs.

Joe Mather's film can be seen on Newsnight on Monday 22 August at 2230 BST.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A disturbing report on living with teenage drug addicts



SEE ALSO:
Parents 'not advising on drugs'
28 Jul 05 |  Education
Life with a junkie son aged 14
22 Aug 02 |  4x4 Reports


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