Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleFurther written evidence from Dr Sue Pryce (DP53b)

The account below was written for Black Poppy (a users’ magazine) in 2007 and was picked up in the Guardian and run under a nom-de-plum Anna Wright under the title “Desperate Measures” 18 July 2007.

A Dealer’s Tale

I am a drug dealer. I park in dark streets waiting for the man (more often the lad) to exchange a small package for a disproportionately large quantity of cash. I sub-divide it into £10 wraps and dole it out to my customer. I use the term customer loosely and in the singular because I supply only one addict who is not a paying client.

My story is not unique. I am one more accidental dealer to an accidental addict.

How did this come about?

The police phoned. They had arrested my son while raiding the premises of a known heroin dealer. D (my son) had knocked on his door, been invited in by the police, searched and arrested for possession of cannabis. Guessing the police would probably appear with a search warrant, I ransacked D’s room. There were no drugs, but there was lots of tinfoil with funny scorched lines on it and a bottle containing green liquid. Instinct made me remove these, although at the time I had no idea of their significance.

D was charged with being involved in the supply of ecstasy to his friends. Something he confessed to the police. He confessed to us that he was addicted to heroin, that he was “chasing the dragon” (hence the tinfoil) and trying to get clean, hence also the black market methadone (green liquid).

The nightmare had begun. We paid debts to dealers and relentlessly pursued the few and mainly useless sources of help. The wheels of justice ground slowly, but those of D’s addiction spun fast, exacerbated by the threat of prison. Eventually, despite a brief spell in two detoxes and the efforts of two enlightened judges, he ended up in prison.

He became relatively, although not entirely, clean in jail. But he obsessed about heroin all the time. He used his release money to score the day he left prison.

My career as a drug dealer began. It was not a decision taken lightly—so why was it taken? I did not want to see D go back to jail. By now I realized that his addiction would drive him back to stealing or dealing, and all of his stealing had been from us. He convinced me that part of the problem was the unpredictability of supply. A reliable source of heroin would enable him to get his life together, and we could wean him off it. I say we because I did not take these decisions alone. D’s father was a key, if reluctant, participant, and without his salary, financing D’s addiction would not have been possible.

Hindsight shows the futility of our decision. The idea of security of supply was fanciful. Street heroin varies in quality and quantity for any given price. These fluctuations and D’s growing tolerance resulted in a rising drug bill for us.

Supplying heroin was not our only strategy. We tried a range of detoxes, at home and residential, counselling, methadone maintenance and subutex—mostly at our expense and all to no avail. At his suggestion, we also paid for a range of IT short courses. These enabled him to develop sophisticated computer skills, even to the extent of designing animated websites.

There were times when everything became unmanageable. D’s rages when we tried to curb his demands to £30’s worth of heroin a day resulted in police interventions and arrests at our instigation.

How has this affected the relationship between D and me and relationships with the rest of the family and our neighbours? There have been some positive outcomes. D and I became closer. I trained to be a voluntary substance misuse counsellor. I studied drugs and their effects on users and became interested in drug policy. I learned about users and dealers and the workings of the drug market.

There have also been considerable negatives. D has developed few coping strategies. He uses drugs to avoid withdrawal but also to avoid dealing with difficulties. He is entirely dependent on our largesse. He has a comfortable life compared to many addicts but that life is largely empty of most things except heroin. His potential remains unfulfilled.

D’s brother has become more distant. He understands the problem but feels angry about what D has done to us. He may feel resentful about the amount of resources, financial and emotional, that have been squandered on D. He probably feels embarrassed that his brother is a heroin addict.

The relationship between D and his father has deteriorated. His father has tried hard to provide D with breathing space in which to develop skills and mature out of the drug habit. But the problem has dragged on so long now (10 years) and been exacerbated by theft and lies. They rarely communicate peacefully or directly with one another. I have been forced into the role of piggy-in-the-middle in a vain attempt to keep the peace.

Family, friends and neighbours divide into two camps. There are those who understand and those who think we should throw D out. Some neighbours barely acknowledge me because they see us as harbouring a dangerous drug addict and criminal. They fail to see that by paying for his drugs and allowing him to use them at home we are trying to contain the wider fallout of his addiction.

All attempts at detox have failed. These failures rob us of hope. They leave me wondering if it is D’s lack of commitment, their lack of professional skill, or worst of all, that nothing will ever work anyway. Sometimes I wonder if by detoxing and rehabilitating people we are simply trying to make them come to terms with a world and self which cannot be reconciled. D despairs of ever getting clean—although he claims he wants to. Life is unimaginable after this long on heroin. He blames this or that ‘cure’ or treatment, but doubtless knows that his will or heart has so far never been in it. Knowing this drives him to demand more heroin to anaesthetise himself from self-knowledge, or to use crack to achieve a quick, but far from cheap, thrill.

The relationship between D and me has become a war of attrition. He nags me for heroin. I try to balance his need, or sometimes just his wants, against our budget. So I nag him to cut down, he begs, pleads and cajoles and then rants and rages and bullies. If I don’t give in I have no peace. If I do I feel depressed because of being too weak to hold the line.

It is difficult to talk to D. We used to share a joke, discuss politics or talk about addiction. His horizons have shrunk to just obtaining and using gear. My life consists of balancing all the spinning plates. D’s behaviour swings are difficult to live with. If he’s had more than enough heroin, he talks none stop, repeating things again and again as he paces up and down; or he slumps on his bed nodding, half watching TV. If he’s had too little he’s angry, explosive, unpredictable and intimidating. Lies have become a way of life and challenges are met with shouted denials, which are repeated endlessly until I doubt my own reason. I have to constantly find new places to hide the heroin. D ransacks my belongings as though we are playing some sort of hunt-the-heroin game.

D lives a one dimensional life but he is not a one dimensional man. His addiction drives his behaviour but in addition to being demanding, threatening and difficult, he is also sensitive, creative and intelligent. He is shocked by the destructive force of his own rages when he craves gear. He is ashamed of the impact this has had on us, although this doesn’t result in any change in his behaviour. Maybe nothing can or will.

Many professionals will probably blame D for not having come to terms with his addiction. I will probably be condemned as a co-dependent suffering from motivated mother syndrome; someone who needs to learn and apply the lessons of tough love. But if your child has a disability you don’t walk away, you try to find help and give support. D did not commit a murder, molest a child or commit a violent crime. Addiction maybe self-indulgence, but it may have causes beyond the will of the addict. Living with an addict is heartbreaking—lies, stealing and often squalor come with the territory.

So why do we continue with a course of action that isn’t working? There seems to be no solution, just a range of possibilities that work for some addicts. We are still buying time for D but can’t do so forever. People sometimes say ‘why did he do this to you?’ I try to explain that he did it to himself—we are just in the fallout zone.

1,487 words; Sue Pryce (Spring 2007)

So where are we now five years later? Not much further. My son is still addicted to heroin. We still fund his drugs, although he gets them himself. But it is more of a struggle financially. My husband has retired. I still work full-time but am already 65. There are some improvements. My son is currently studying graphic design three days a week. He is a perfectionist and spends hours on his homework. He has a girlfriend who he sees at weekends. He is on a subutex prescription but uses street drugs as well.

I was prompted to submit this additional evidence because this week he was picked up by the police after he left a known dealer’s. He was searched and found to be in possession £20’s worth of drugs. He is currently on bail pending analysis of the substance. They have told him he will probably charged with possession of class A drugs. This brought back to me the whole pointlessness drug policy. He is a known drug user who bought drugs. Easy to pick up and search. His drugs were confiscated so in his case that is £20 we will have to find. Had he not been funded by us it would probably be £40 more shoplifting to replace the drugs. It has already used up valuable police time, taking him back to the station, interviewing him, finger-printing and photographing him. If charged that will entail court time and lawyer’s fees. Maybe this will end in a fine. How will he pay it? It will be deducted from his benefits. So we end up paying out more for his food or college travel, or drugs. If he didn’t have us it would probably lead to shoplifting or small time dealing. Now the police have him on the radar again they will search him and hassle him on a regular basis. All to what purpose? He uses an illegal drug to cope with life, others may turn to a couple of stiff drinks.

January 2012.

Prepared 8th December 2012