My son, Ryan, discovered drugs at the height of the rave scene in 1991. Ecstasy was his drug of preference and he and his friends acquired it easily and used it regularly to enhance their social lives. Partying with his friends was all that Ryan lived for in those days. I knew about my son’s drug taking and when I expressed concern and disapproval his response was “don’t worry, mum, it’s not dangerous, it makes everyone happier and the world a more beautiful place.” How can you argue with that kind of 14-year-old logic?

Sadly, Ryan didn’t ‘outgrow’ his drug habit as did many of his friends who now have successful careers and families of their own. His entire life was a progression of drug taking–ecstasy, cannabis, cocaine, and, in the end, the synthetic ‘legal’ drugs. But the drugs didn’t define my son. Ryan was a complicated young man–gentle, loving, compassionate, confident; and, at the same time angry, obstinate and reckless. Ryan hated injustice of any kind, from racism at school and in the workplace to indifference toward the homeless (my blankets and sleeping bags were always going missing!) and there was always a need in him to defy authority when he felt it was justified.

His ‘passive resistance’ to laws prohibiting soft drugs culminated in 2013 in his receiving a prison sentence for growing cannabis for his own use in a shed in his garden. He knew of many cases in our town where local lads received much more lenient sentences for burglary and serious assault and he felt that he was being unfairly ‘made an example of’ by the legal system. Ryan despised this kind of hypocrisy in the system. How can locking up a young man who was thoughtful and kind and never a threat to anyone possibly be beneficial for society? It just served to enhance his antagonism toward the system he didn’t believe in.

On his release from prison, he found it very difficult to obtain or hold down a job and he hated being unemployed but the support he needed wasn’t forthcoming.  My feeling is that he was harbouring so much anger and resentment towards the police and the criminal justice system that he started suffering from depression. Despite having a wife and beautiful daughter and a loyal network of friends, Ryan’s drug dependency gradually led to his addiction to alcohol (a lethal and poorly regulated drug) and the downward spiral began. Various therapy sessions, followed by six months in rehab (all paid for privately) gave us some hope but, in the end, there was no return from the hell that is alcoholism.

Ryan died all alone from alcohol poisoning on Oct 6, 2016. He was 39 years old. His dad and I will never stop asking ourselves if we did all we could to save him. But, more importantly, what should our government and National Health Service be doing to save our children? Ryan always resented the fact that alcohol, which was cheap, legal and easily obtainable, but extremely harmful, was condoned by society but party drugs weren’t. I’m absolutely certain that if my son hadn’t been stigmatised and criminalised by our totally unjust drug laws he wouldn’t have become an ‘angry young man’ and the outcome may have been different.

Perhaps, for someone else’s child, it can be. It’s time we look at all drugs, including alcohol, and find a way to regulate them effectively to keep all our children safe.