On 20th July, 2013, I received the phone call that no parent wants to get. The voice said that my 15-year-old daughter was gravely ill and they were trying to save her life. On that beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, Martha had swallowed half a gram of MDMA powder (more widely known as ecstasy) that turned out to be 91% pure. Within two hours of taking it, my daughter died of an accidental ecstasy overdose. She was my only child.
I was blissfully ignorant about the world of drugs before Martha died. Drugs are laughed about on sitcoms, joked about on panel shows. Much as I hate to admit it, they are a normal part of modern society. Young people witness their friends not dying from taking drugs all the time. So by simply spouting the “Just don’t do it” line and hoping that will be enough of a deterrent, we’re closing our eyes to what’s really going on.
The subject of drugs evokes so much emotion in people, it’s hard for many to imagine what moving away from prohibition would actually look like in practice. Many think it would result in a free-for-all, but that’s what we actually have at the moment. Drugs are currently 100% controlled by criminals, who are willing to sell to you whether you’re aged 5 or 55. Everyone has easy-access to dangerous drugs, that is a fact.
After Martha died, I looked at her internet history and found that she had been researching ways to take drugs safely. I’ve said that “Martha wanted to get high, she didn’t want to die”. All parents would prefer one of those options to the other. And while no one wants drugs being sold to children, if Martha had got hold of legally regulated drugs meant for adults, labelled with health warnings and dosage instructions, she would not have gone on to take 5-10 times the safe dose.
When I hear the news that a young person has died and yet another family has joined the bereaved parents’ club, I feel helpless as I wonder how many more need to die before someone in government will actually do something about it? As I stand by my child’s grave, what more evidence do I need that things must change? Isn’t this loss of precious lives an indicator of a law that is past its sell-by date and in need of urgent reform? A good start would be to conduct the very first proper review of our drug laws in over 40 years and to consider alternative approaches. But the people in power turn away from it. They play an amazing game of “Let’s pretend”. Well there’s no way for me to hide – every day I wake up, the stark reality of Martha’s absence hits me once again.
As I write this, I have been without my girl for 643 days. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But in the aftermath, time becomes distorted and meaningless. So to represent my beloved Martha, it is my quest to align myself with those who can help progress this conversation. That is why I’m involved with the Anyone’s Child project. This unique chorus of voices cannot be ignored; there is nowhere to hide from our harrowing stories. But with every step this project takes in pursuit of political change, one more set of footprints on this earth will hopefully be saved from being extinguished.