After spending all my life and most of his occupying the role of wee sister, it is a strange reality that I’m now older than my big brother. He never made it to his 30th birthday. Never becoming an uncle to my daughter whom he would have adored is the saddest loss of all.
Though I think I had expected to lose him.
Alan had been a heroin user for over ten years. And because, as we are so often told, drugs are dangerous, wicked and bad, I presumed he’d die from an overdose or a batch of bad heroin. That’s what happens to drug users after all. I never imagined he would be murdered.
The violence and senselessness of his death left me bewildered. How could this have happened to our family, to my brother? We had the same opportunities, upbringing and values yet our lives had become disparate. He had conformed to all the drug user stereotypes, ticking the boxes at various points over the years, but I like to think he was the most stable and well in the months leading up to his death. His murder. I find the word ‘murder’ difficult to apply to Alan’s death. Inappropriate because it implies intent, whereas to me it is clear he was killed because of the life he led and the people he associated with.
Alan and Katrina as children
Choices he had made led to his death. But not the choice I had assumed could kill him. Changes he had made couldn’t save him. The more I think about this the more unfair it seems. My whole family have been left devastated, lost and full of blame. We should have prevented his death, kept him safe from harm, looked after him. The reality is there was very little we could do, as arguably the most dangerous side effect of drug taking had long since taken its toll. Though often underestimated, it was the illegality of his addiction that left us helpless and pushed Alan to the edge of society.
In short, prohibition doesn’t work. It instantaneously criminalises people who choose to use drugs. It keeps drugs in the hands of unscrupulous dealers, puts people at risk and creates chaos.
I strongly believe that my brother would be alive and enjoying his niece if he had had access to safe, regulated and controlled drugs. I don’t want any other family to go through the ongoing, drawn out devastation of losing a loved one the way we did: watching them spiral in and out of control, fearing for their existence every day, but feeling completely helpless to help. It’s exhausting, all consuming and ultimately avoidable with a change to the law. The current system isn’t working. We must look for a real alternative that helps drug users and their families.