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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
'I lost my son to heroin'
By Chris Summers
BBC News in Hull

When Karen Davies lost her 23-year-old son to heroin in November 1994 she thought she would never recover.

Christian Hawkins, who died of a heroin overdose aged 23
When I heard he had died, for two seconds it was such a relief. It was like an illness that had him in his grip. Then I wanted him back as I knew him before
Karen Davies
Although she still misses Christian greatly, Karen has rebuilt her life and she actually owes her new career as a drugs counsellor to the experiences she went through with her son.

Karen vividly remembers his last day alive.

"It was a Sunday and he came over for a shower. He said he'd be back about 4pm for his Sunday dinner but he never did.

"I didn't think it strange because [addicts] have no sense of time. On Monday evening I went past his flat and saw the light on.

"By Tuesday I had this gut feeling that something was not right."

Having got no answer from the flat, Karen persuaded her daughter's boyfriend to climb in through an upstairs window.


"He found Christian dead, sitting on the toilet. He had been dead since Sunday. He had injected and missed a vein, hitting an artery. There was blood all over the bathroom."

The BBC News website is exploring drugs in Britain in a special series of features.
We look at how drugs get here, who uses them and whether current anti-drugs strategies are working.

Her son's death should not have come as a surprise, but Karen was still devastated.

She says: "When I heard he had died, for two seconds it was such a relief. It was like an illness that had him in his grip. Then I wanted him back as I knew him before.

"There is not a day goes by that I don't think about him. We always talk about him and he will always be part of our family."

Her advice for parents is: "Be there for them, but get on with your lives. Support them emotionally, if they need to talk, but not financially."

Karen Davies
I had this chip on my shoulder about why my son died when other users were still walking around
Karen Davies

"When he died I went to places where they dealt with child bereavement and when I mentioned drugs their defences went up. I struggled for a year to find anyone to help me," Karen told the BBC News website.

Eventually Karen met two other mothers who had lost their children to drugs. The three of them began to meet every week to discuss their grief and the other emotions they were experiencing.

"That helped me enormously," she said. "It was good to feel that I was not the only person going through that. I no longer had this chip on my shoulder about why my son died when other users were still walking around."

More parents joined the group and Karen became a volunteer at the Hull and East Yorkshire Council for Drug Problems, where she now works as a paid member of staff.

Karen remembers how her son drifted into drugs, and now she is able to warn parents of the danger signs.

Trust fund

The eldest of three children, he was 18 and deeply into the dance music scene, attending raves all over the country.

My brother has been an addict for 12 years now and it's like a black hole in the centre of our family
Charlotte, London

She says: "He used to lose his temper more and was getting agitated. I didn't think anything of it at first.

"One day he was trashing his sister's bedroom for no reason. I told him to get out of the house and he did."

For a year Karen did not speak to her son or see him. He gave up his job as a delivery driver, but he had money from a trust-fund inheritance.

"After a year we got in touch again. I noticed that he had his hair shaved and was now dressing in jeans and trainers rather than smart clothes."

At a family bonfire party Christian bragged about having injected heroin but said it was a one-off.

I said to him 'You're using every day now, aren't you?' and he said yes. I cried
Karen Davies

"As the months went by he started developing black lines on either side of his nose and I said to him 'You're using every day now, aren't you?' and he said 'yes'.

"I cried and my daughter, who was 15, cried. She said 'I love you but I don't like what you're doing', and she stopped visiting him," recalls Karen.

For a long time Christian was able to keep his habit secret from his live-in girlfriend but the relationship broke up and his trust-fund money began to run out.

He began to mix exclusively with other addicts, several of whom were involved in burglaries, robberies and prostitution.

'He was crying'

"The thing is about addicts, they always think they are in control," says Karen.

The depths Karen's son had sunk to were brought home one day when her youngest son's mountain bike went missing from her garden shed.

Temazepam tablets
Christian was taking 30 Temazepam tablets a day

She discovered Christian had sold it to buy drugs.

On another occasion he pleaded with his grandmother to give him £440 to pay off a drug debt.

"He was crying but I said it was his debt and he had to pay it. I knew that he might get beaten up or killed but I knew that we couldn't just give and give.

"My mum gave him the money and he took it to the dealer who gave him a piece of paper saying the debt was now paid.

"But it was a scam. I later found the £440 in his shoe," says Karen.

"Addicts are always good actors," she says.

By this time Christian was injecting up to 30 Temazepam tablets a day on top of his heroin intake. He was injecting in his feet and legs because the veins in his arms had collapsed, and his weight had dropped to nine stone.

Rehab clinic

Karen says: "He was really going downhill. I think he knew it himself.

"Then one day he said he had had enough and wanted to stop."

Christian managed to get a place at a rehab clinic in Norfolk but first he had to endure the agonies of withdrawal before they would allow him in.

Hull city centre
He said he didn't want to come back to Hull because he associated drugs with Hull
Karen Davies

When he finally arrived at the clinic he was diagnosed as having Hepatitis B, which he had contracted through sharing needles.

Karen says: "Four weeks after he arrived we went to visit him, and he looked really well. He said he didn't want to come back to Hull because he associated drugs with Hull. He wanted to stay in Norwich."

But a few weeks later Christian was kicked out of the clinic after getting into a fight with another resident.

She says: "He was devastated. I drove to Norwich to pick him up. Shortly after that he went back to using (heroin) again.

"It was six weeks from him coming out of the clinic to him dying."

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Karen, I am a 36 year old recovered iv drug user and I quit after overdose and violence and the fear that I would put my mother thru the ultimate worst agony: my death. I hope your story influences young men and women to spare their parents this nightmare. Heroin never lets go and only a few escape its grip. Christian RIP.
M. Haritos, Berkeley, CA

Karen, I just wanted to let you know that I think the way you coped with Christian's addiction is admirable. You stood by him when he needed you, but you did not help in anyway to fund his habit. I hope that Christian has found peace and congratulations to you in your new career. It seems like you have the experience and qualities to really excel. Even in this darkest moment, you have turned an awful situation into a positive one.
Helen, London

My family and i understand how you must have felt about your son's death because someone dear to us has passed away just recently due to the misuse of drugs. He was 19 and a respectable boy. It hit our family hard because drugs were a big no no and so we know how you grieve and hope that in time you will see he has gone to a better place in heaven
hannah, manchester england

How much money is it costing us to try to help these people? What about cancer patients or the sick and elderly, young children in hospital these people deserve our help not this lot. I know what the're like i'm the same sort of bloke and have lost mates to drugs.
Jason, Leeds

Jason, from Leeds, these people need help as much as any other group. Sorting them out results in more productive members of society and less crime. How much misery can a single addict wreak while on a crime spree to pay for their drugs?
Aram, London

I work with Heroin/crack users and tend to think of addicts as being very ill people who need help rather than the condemnation that some of the contributers here seem to espouse. 90% of this country's heroin comes from Afghanistan. Why doesn't the UK Government do something? I will tell you why. Because the country we helped ravage would collapse without the income from drugs. We are helping Britains addicts get their fix. I'd like to know what Tony B has to say.
R Hammond, Ipswich

How sad when people don't understand that it is also an illness, o.k. so it may be self inflicted no matter, you don't know the reason why they do it in the first place? people in glass houses should not throw stones you don't know when they will bounce back. My son was an addict for 8 years and went down to 5 stone, i never gave up on him or stopped loving him, I did not give him money or support his habbit but I did not give up on him, now he is well and happy not touching one drug for over 7 years, TOUGH LOVE.
Patricia, Middlesex

More than 30 years ago, after my best friend died of a heroin overdose, I always thought that by now we would have found a sensible way of dealing with drugs, that did not involve destroying a person's life with a criminal conviction or forcing them into the back street lottery of the unknown, impure, and amateurish taking of drugs that will always occur when you just make it all very illegal. Our present approach of pretty much destroying a person's chance for a professional career, in order to save them from themselves is clearly absurd, and no longer makes any sense to me.
Terry M, Hersham UK

My heart goes out to Karen. Nobody should have to go through what she did, and does. To have become a counsellor to help others get through the ordeal that drugs put her though, well it's inspiring.
Helen, Chelmsford, UK

I am a member of Families Anonymous and it has saved me from helping my son with his addiction. I made him leave home 4 years ago and he is now in a follow-on house from a hostel having lived on the streets. He is on Methadone and trying to reduce his dose. More importantly he how lives with hope and happiness without heroin. My heart goes out to Karen as she is where I thought I would be. If my son relapses the chances are he will die.
Susan, Camberley/Surrey UK

I truly feel for this family but my heart goes out more for the addicts themselves.I think only God has the answers to addiction and when one meets Jesus Christ they never have the need for self-destruction anymore.
philo ochieng, bristol uk

A sad story outlining how dangerous this drug is. It affects the brain so much. It is also a shame that this drug is still not beaten! There is a lot of emphasis on political correctness when there should be more on drugs. Police should be given extra powers to deal with drug pushers. Heroin pushers are murderers really, they kill the addict by the drugs and take all of their families' lives away while they live to deal with the loss. Its really sad.
Ashfaq Juna, Reading, UK

Parents have about as much control over whether their children use drugs as they have over whether they contract cancer or are run over by a bus - it really is time people started to 'grow up' about drug-use and treat everyone with an addition (whether it be cigarettes, beer, chocolate or heroin) in a more sensible way.
John Peat, Northumberland

Drug addicts put themselves into awful positions it is their choice to take drugs after all, but this does not mean that they dont deserve help. If an addict can make the descision to get clean there is actually little support or positivity available to them, thank goodness for people like Karen who are changing things. My brother was a heroin addict for five years and I am lucky to say he is now clean and a productive member of society again. I can't see drugs ever disappearing so instead it is society that must change the way we approach drug addicts- stop treating drug use as a dirty little shameful secret and bring it to everyones attention so it has nowhere to hide and the dealers cant hide either. They are the criminals, users are the outcome.
Rosie, worcester

Dear Karen, I cried when I read your story. My brother has been a heroin addict for 22 years, I miss him greatly and myself and my family know what you are going through. My mum has had to look after his and his girlfriend's children, as he and his girlfriend at the time could not cope with them. We don't ask for members of our family to become addicts and the impact on their family as you know is great. I love my brother dearly, I know one day soon there will be a call to say he has died. When this call comes I know I will have a little relief as I know the heroin can't get him anymore, I also know my heart will ache for the brother I used to have.
Nicky, Liverpool

I think the answer is communication. Don't ever think your children/friends won't do hard drugs, talk to them all the time and let them know they can talk to you. I was brought up in a middle class 'normal' family with everything I wanted and I became addicted to heroin. I first took it because I wanted to be part of the in crowd. If I had felt I could have talked to someone about my feelings I would have realised what a happy and lucky person I was and that I didn't need to follow the crowd. I have been clean for 10 years and am happily married and am trying for a baby and if I am blessed with a child I will be as open and honest with them as I can be.

I feel for Karen and her family. They've suffered greatly through no fault of their own and have behaved correctly throughout. But I find it hard to see the heroin-using son as a victim. Drugs - even cigarettes - aren't nice to use, and it takes quite a while to get used to them to the point where you stop finding them distasteful. It's a cliché but we all have choices, and this boy made his.
Adrian, London

People like him are people like us . Until everyone recognises that getting hooked on a substance like heroin does not mean you are stupid but just that you have committed a stupid act then there is no hope for any sort of resolution to the drug problems in this country . Any one of the people who have read this article could become a heroin user under the right circumstances .
James Ralls, Portsmouth , uk

Thank you for all your comments, this debate is now closed but you can read more of your experiences here.

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