In June 2019, Anyone’s Child member, Brian, spoke at Maidenhead: Take Drugs Seriously, as part of our Week of Action to End the Drug War. You can read his powerful and inspiring speech here.

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.

All appeared to be going well for the next year until my daughter suddenly decided to buy some heroin, from what proved to be a batch contaminated with fentanyl. She took it and died in her bathroom in our own town.

I will not dwell on the utter devastation this tragedy has caused to our family or how I will never fully recover from her loss. Only those who have lived through such an event can have true understanding but at present, on average, 10 people every day in England and Wales currently hear that someone in their family has died in this way. That’s over 3,500 per year. To put this in a local context, it is as though every pupil at the four secondary schools in our town disappeared over the course of only one year. We have the highest death rate in Europe and researchers can give no clear reason why this should be so, but there is no doubt that we cannot afford to go on losing such numbers in a futile hope that the situation will simply go away. The majority of family members affected by a drug-related death feel they can’t speak openly about their loss due to a sense of shame that surrounds them. Anyone’s Child exists as an organisation to give us the powerful voice we lack as individuals.

I want to share my vision that the current situation can be improved if we all work together to bring to our politicians the message that their ‘War on Drugs’ is failing each and every one of us. It is my heartfelt hope that legal regulation can be achieved so that the trade is taken away from criminal elements and put safely into the hands of trained professionals. Not only to dispense tested licensed drugs but also to provide the counselling services which are proving to be so valuable in reducing harm in a festival setting. If there is one single message to take home from this meeting tonight, it should be that changes to the current drug laws must be a priority for our government whatever other issues appear to hold their attention at the moment.

Thank you all again for being here.