Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 15:23 UK

Heroin lifestyle 'another world'

By Nick Parry
BBC Wales News website

Andrea Townsend and Gemma Evans
Andrea Townsend [L] and Gemma Evans put Carly to bed after she had taken heroin

The manslaughter trial of the mother and half-sister of a 16-year-old girl who died of a heroin overdose exposed a family's lifestyle which seemed to centre on drugs.

Despite her tender age, Carly Townsend had been taking the class A drug for almost two years when she died in May 2007.

According to Alan Andrews, director of Choose Life Cymru, a Llanelli-based drug and alcohol intervention centre, heroin "does not take any prisoners".

He argued that the way the family lived could be understood only by someone who had once been a drug addict themselves.

He is a former drug user who was a friend of Carly's late father Trevor, and he also knew the dead girl, her mother and half-sister.

"If you have not lived in that world it's very hard to understand it. It's another world," he said.

At one stage Carly would buy four to five bags of heroin a day, worth about 40 to 50.

Her mother Andrea Townsend, 46, an experienced drug user, knew her daughter was injecting, but did not stop her.

Alan Andrews, managing director of Choose Life Cymru
When you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night all you think about is drugs
Alan Andrews, Choose Life Cymru, on the life of an addict

She told the jury she had not taken heroin for a number of years. But she still had other drug problems and not only had she lost her daughter to drugs, but also her husband - Carly's father - and "about 20" friends.

The prosecution also told the court that Carly's half-sister, Gemma Evans, 25, who had also suffered an overdose in the past, helped Carly in buying the heroin that would kill her.

Both knew Carly had taken heroin on the night she died.

The prosecution case was that in the early evening they put her in the recovery position in bed at their mid-terraced home in Pwll, Llanelli, and went downstairs to watch soaps on television rather than call an ambulance.

They were both convicted of manslaughter through gross negligence, although Swansea Crown Court heard that they believed Carly had not taken a fatal amount and would recover.

Of the life of an addict, Mr Andrews said: "When you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night all you think about is drugs.

"All they think about is their next fix. They live for their next fix.

"Once they have had their next fix they get an hour or so 'window' and then they are thinking, 'Where do I get my next drugs from?' Their whole life revolves around it."

But Mr Andrews argued that people should remember that Carly's mother and sister were still grieving for her as well as having to deal with the trial.

"You can say they should not have done this or that, but we can all look back at choices we have made and would like to change.

"They don't need to be told they have made a mistake, they know it. I'm sure if they could go back in time they would probably give their own lives to go back in time but they can't.

Care order

"I did crazy things on drugs. I remember stealing what I thought was a doctor's bag which, when I opened it, turned out to be a vet's bag with photographs of animals on the pills.

Heroin is a very big problem in Llanelli, but it's no different from any other town; there's nowhere in Wales you can hide these days
Alan Andrews

"I remember taking the label off, giving it to my best friend and watching him inject himself. When he did not overdose, I then took it. I would never ever do that now."

During the trial the court heard that from the age of seven Carly was made the subject of a care order and raised by foster parents.

At the age of 15 she moved into a flat on Station Road in Llanelli and it was around this time she started to take heroin.

Mr Andrews said: "Heroin is a very big problem in Llanelli, but it's no different from any other town; there's nowhere in Wales you can hide these days.

"There have been stories of 10 [year-olds] upwards [taking heroin] but it's mainly early teens.

"We've got this perception that it's drug dealers dealing to children but it does not happen - its through association - not peer pressure but peer preference - whoever you choose to hang around with, that's who you become like."

Trouble with the police led Carly to two terms of detention - first at West Cross House in Swansea and then the Hillside Secure Unit in Neath.

She was half-way through a six-month sentence there when she was released in April 2007, the jury was told.

Denied access to heroin, staff were said to have been impressed by her desire to kick drugs and start afresh, and on leaving she was planning to work for her elder brother before going to college in September.

But 10 days after her release police and paramedics were called to the house in Pwll where they found Carly dead in bed.

Mr Andrews said: "At the end of the day drugs took the life of the father, it's destroyed the life of Andrea and Gemma and sadly Carly. Heroin does not take any prisoners.

"Hopefully through what they have gone through they can start to address their own problems.

"I would like to see support put in place so they are able to do that.

"They need people to come alongside them, support them and not judge them."

Choose Life Cymru is open between 1000 and 1600 BST five days a week with a drop-in and family support service.

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