This blog is adapted from a speech given by Rose at the Durham PCC Symposium.
Good afternoon. I want to tell you what happened to my two much-loved sons who died, to show why I’m calling for legal regulation of drugs. For half a century our laws have not stopped people using drugs. If people will use them anyway, let’s at least make them safer. The user might be your son or daughter, whether you know it or not.
Teenagers take risks. They ignore parental advice. They make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. They’re quite likely to try drugs.
As teenagers, my two youngest boys, Jake and Roland, were trying drugs. At first we didn’t realise, thinking they were just rebellious teenagers. Drugs had no place in our respectable world. But when we did have conversations about drugs, telling them to just say No, they’d reply that people who took drugs were stupid.
When young people see others feeling good with drugs, they tend to disbelieve scary warnings. They know that most drug use doesn’t become problematical. So drugs information should be truthful.
For Jake and Roland in the early 1990s, cannabis, amphetamines and magic mushrooms were readily available – despite their supply being illegal. Their friends were doing these drugs too, despite possession being illegal. Most of their friends did not go on to become heroin addicts. But my boys did. They’d never intended this outcome, but it could happen to anyone’s child.
Criminalisation blights young people’s lives.
I had the humiliation of our local paper reporting Jake’s arrest for possession of cannabis. He later said that newspaper report seemed to label him and push him along the path of being a druggie. Having a fine to pay was not helpful, it alienated him further from authority, and the criminal record harmed his job prospects.
Organised crime controlling drugs puts users in danger. Government controlling and regulating drugs would keep users safer.
Those in supply chains of illicit drugs encourage customers to buy more or different drugs. It’s in their interests. So I believe my sons were persuaded into harder drugs. Then they got into debt with their dealers. Jake arriving home late would tell me of hiding or running from them, scared. I was myself frightened by one of his acquaintances arriving at my house when I was alone. He asked me to pay money he said Jake owed him. I refused. He then said someone might come round and break my windows. So I handed over the money even though I wanted to call the police. I was too afraid of alerting them to Jake’s drug use and causing him more trouble with the law. It was awful being put in this situation.
Having someone in the household with illicit and problematic drug use causes stress and friction in the family.
My husband and I endured many unhappy years of upsets and gnawing anxiety because of Jake’s or Roland’s behaviour, and knowing that we couldn’t trust them. And it was difficult for their studious older brother.
When someone decides to get off drugs, that’s when they need help, not several weeks later.
Roland, our youngest, shy, gentle son, died nearly 14 years ago aged 23. We’d had the joy of seeing him give up heroin for a while. But when he and his girlfriend split up he returned to it to deal with his heartbreak. Now he wanted to be clean again, make up for wasted years, and go to college. So Roland went on a waiting list for a methadone programme. After several weeks and still waiting, while he was trying to reduce his use, a friend phoned and tempted him round to his house. Roland died there, from a combination of heroin and alcohol.
Fear of the police causes needless deaths.
When Roland was slumped in the bathroom the others there delayed calling 999. We suspect fear of the law caused this delay.
The law makes a difficult situation worse for parents.
When Roland told me the methadone programme depended on him reducing his drug use first, I was desperate to help him. I agreed to pay for the minimum amount of heroin he needed, provided I went with him when he bought it and he handed it straight to me. I then gave it him at agreed intervals. I was nervous because of breaking the law, but I felt calmer having some control and knowing he wouldn’t be stealing from us. After Roland died the police, although they seemed sympathetic, said I would be questioned formally about this. So, at the same time as grieving for Roland, I worried for 6 months until we were interviewed at the police station. The decision was then made not to pursue it.
Drug deaths don’t necessarily deter others.
Jake was eventually at university, and so away when Roland died. They’d been very close and he was devastated. But, instead of taking his brother’s death as a warning against drugs, he dropped out of university and coped with his distress by using drugs more than ever.
It’s better that a user should get his drug from a safe source rather than a dangerous one.
Later, Jake went to rehab, then had almost seven years drug-free. We were proud of him studying again and being such an amazing personality. He was well on his way to qualify as an art psychotherapist, and in a loving relationship with his partner and adored baby son. But, after a short relapse in 2013, the following year he relapsed again. I think it was because he put himself under too much pressure – he was about to complete a Masters degree among doing too many other things. When we found out he was ashamed and promised to stop. But stopping is not so easy. Aged 37 with a bright future, he died alone from heroin overdose. I wish he could have gone to an easily accessible clinic for safe prescribed heroin, with counselling and help. Instead he felt his only option was street heroin of unknown purity and strength.
When my grandchildren are older, I’d prefer them not to use drugs. But, if they do, I want it to be without going to unsafe environments, without risking a criminal record or worse, without their families feeling fear and shame, and with truthful drugs education and by choosing safely produced and labelled products from regulated outlets.
That’s why I joined Anyone’s Child. The increasing number of families in our organisation know the misery caused by our drug laws. In the UK there are now more than fifty drug deaths per week – the highest number since records began in the early 1990s. If our drug laws are intended to keep people safe, this shows they don’t work.
I hope we can help to influence policy to prevent other parents having to hear the worst news any parent can hear, the thing most parents don’t even want to think about, the tears, and the grief of having to arrange their child’s funeral. That’s why I want legal regulation of drugs.