As well as being a member of Anyone’s Child, I work in harm reduction with the drug counselling and testing service, the Loop, so I see drugs and the effects of drugs at festival sites. Although I do not feel the need to take drugs myself, I recognise that many people do and that some have a very real and pressing need to take them at some particular stage in their lives.
Whether we like it or not, drug taking is a fact of life and has always been so, but what we are now seeing is that even the most dangerous drugs are readily ordered in our town for the price of a take-away meal, and are often delivered by children coerced into working for the criminal gangs who control the trade.
Whenever we buy a licensed pharmaceutical drug we are given an information sheet, typically five or six pages of information on what is contained in the product, how to take it, the effects and possible side effects, what to do if you become ill from taking it and who to contact. On the other hand, street dealers rarely know exactly what is in their products, they have no back-up in case of ill-effects, have no training and pay no personal or corporate taxes, so they make great quantities of almost untraceable money. Above all, they are in a position to damage or kill their customers yet they are totally free from the myriad regulations and inspections that govern any legitimate pharmaceutical business.
This is the reality for our young and not so young people who buy street drugs.
Our friends in the police tell us that when they successfully close down a gang of drug dealers it is always the case that the whole organisation is quickly replaced by another, yet more violent gang selling even more dangerous drugs. Until about five years ago, like most middle-aged people, I rarely thought about the problems caused by illegal drugs. Of course, I smelled cannabis everywhere and saw media reports of gangs fighting over territory but I took the view that these things did not concern me at all. Then five years ago, my god-daughter died as a result of taking drugs, on the evening of her 30th birthday. Naturally, this event came as a huge shock and it brought home to me that this kind of tragedy could so easily happen to any family.
When I was able to reflect on the events that lead to her death, I began to feel that I should work to reduce the dangers of illegal drugs but I had no idea how best to go about it at that time.
This issue was brought even closer to home soon afterwards when my daughter told me that she had been taking heroin but was stopping with the help of our local drug team, now run by our friends at Resilience. I was excluded from participating in her treatment program but I sought, and received, very welcome personal support from our local charity DrugFam.