Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1345
TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2002
1345. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This
is one of the final public sessions of our inquiry into the Government's
drug policy and we thought it would be wrong of us were we to
conclude without hearing from representatives of the families
of people who have suffered in one way or another from drugs.
So, that is the purpose of this morning's session. If I may, what
I will do is ask each of you to tell us about your personal circumstances
and what made you interested in this area, and then we will go
on to discuss some of the issues with you. What we are particularly
interested to hear from youand we will come to this lateris
the quality of the services available at local level for those
addicts who want to get off drugs. Perhaps I can start with Mr
Gillespie. Can you tell us a little about your personal circumstances,
what got you interested and the effect it has had on your family.
(Mr Gillespie) Thank you, Chairman. Could
I just say briefly that I am very grateful for this opportunity
to be able to come and speak to such an important Committee because
very often parents are the last people who get an opportunity
to actually talk to the decision makers. So, thank you for that.
The other thing I would like to say is that anything I do say
about drugs, I am in no way condoning their use and I am not an
advocate for their use. I do not represent anybody or any organisation.
I represent only myself. To answer your question directly, when
my son became involved with hard drugs, I could not really find
anywhere that would be prepared to deal with his particular case
because there did not seem to be any structure whereby a young
person who was involved with hard drugs was particularly welcomed
into the system. I gained the impression, particularly within
the NHS, that they wanted somebody they could fix quickly and
get rid of. I do not mean that pejoratively, but just somebody
they could get pushed through. My son died two years ago, a month
short of his 34th birthday. He had been involved with hard drugs
for about three or four years before that. He was introduced to
drugs at school, strangely enough by a doctor's son who had stolen
some stuff from his father's surgery. To cut a long story short,
despite our best efforts and the school's best efforts and other
parents who had other children in the same situation, he progressed
steadily through the chain, if you like, and finished up on heroin.
I cannot pinpoint any particular reason he out of our five children
should have chosen this route to take. Apart from it being a decimating
experience for the family, it was particularly hard for his brothers
and sisters who had tried very hard to wean him off this and persuade
him to take a different direction. Unlike my other children, he
was an extremely sensitive boy. One of the first things that hit
him particularly hard was the Falklands War which he could not
see the point of; he was very phlegmatic and diffident as an individual.
Any kind of cruelty to animals affected him badly. He was beside
himself with the last Kosovo conflicts. I am not making excuses
but possibly a reason for his drug use was his inability to confront
real life and exigencies of that. He is clearly not alone because
I have made it my business to get close to the circles in which
he moved and I have found very similar situations with these people.
None of them were vindictive or nasty; they would not go round
attacking old ladies; they were very peaceable individuals who
just seemed to need an alternative to the existence that we all
have if you like, and there does not seem to be any way of persuading
them that there are other ways to run your life. I do not want
to go on at great length but I can assure you, Chairman, that
there are very few things in life that concentrate the mind more
than losing a child. So, I had to think about this very, very
firmly. Until my son became involved in drugs, I have to confess
that I was one of those people who thought, build more prisons,
get more police and, if they want to kill themselves, that is
fine, chuck away the key. I had to think about it really hard
and I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I could
seeand I speak entirely personally and I do not expect
people to agree with thiswould be to legalise all drugs.
1346. Can I stop you there, Mr Gillespie because
we will come to that in a moment. At the moment, what I want to
get from each of you is your personal experience which you have
very articulately described. May I just ask how your son funded
(Mr Gillespie) By stealing.
1347. So that presumably brought him into contact
with the criminal justice system?
(Mr Gillespie) I am convinced that he is dead because
of the law. He was arrestedironically, it was not him;
I am not defending him, it just happened that he was not because
he was freedand spent five weeks on remand. In a remand
wing, there are no drugs available. Apparently, drugs are available
in the long term areas of prisons but they are not in the remand
wings because the throughput is so quick. When he was released
from there, I picked him up from the station. I noticed the sheen
on his face; I could recognise the signs. He had obviously been
to get more stuff because he had been without for five weeks.
I think you will see from the statement that I made to you that
the Coroner's view was that he had been a long time without, he
then took his normal dose but it was adulterated, it was toxic,
and he diedhe slept away, he did not wake up.
1348. For how long was he addicted to heroin?
(Mr Gillespie) I do not know exactly but I would say,
prior to his death three to four years.
1349. Was he living at home during that time?
(Mr Gillespie) No, he was not, he was living in Ipswich.
He had a flat in Ipswich, he came back to live in my village and
then moved back to Ipswich to see a friend and he died in their
1350. What was the impact of his addiction on
the family over those three or four years?
(Mr Gillespie) Just awful really. Everybody tried
to help him. As I say, I feel the sorriest for his brothers and
sisters. It is one thing to lose a child, which was my loss; their
loss was a brother and a much loved brother because he was actually
a very nice bloke; he was very laid back, easy-going, extremely
pleasant and a great favourite in the family.
1351. Thank you very much. We will come back
to you in a moment if we may. Could I turn now to Mr Sims of ADFAM.
Perhaps you could start by explaining what ADFAM is and why it
was set up.
(Mr Sims) ADFAM was started in 1984 by the mother
of somebody using heroin because, as is still the experience and
was commonly the experience then, she could not find any help
for her own needs or in fact for the child who was using at that
point. In 1989, we started a help line for families affected by
alcohol and drugs and we now get about 12,000 calls a year from
family members who could be grandparents, siblings, parents, anybody
really. As an organisation, we define the family very broadly.
We also have a quite sizeable prisons project which works face-to-face
with family members in London prisons' visitor centres and it
advises other prison regions around the country about how to handle
the issue of families. We also provide community development support
to family groups around the country. I bring a background from
the United States where I worked in the prisons, drugs and HIV
sectors and the last year since I joined has been spent touring
different parts of the UK although not all parts of the UKI
am looking at Mrs Humphreys and Ms Williams because I have not
been to their parts of the UKto find out from families
themselves what their true needs are and to try and address that
through our contacts with Government, for example.
1352. How do you fund your existence?
(Mr Sims) Partly through Government grants from the
Department of Health and from the Prison Service to work with
the prison population, through private donations and through sizeable
contributions from foundations and trusts.
1353. How did you come to this work?
(Mr Sims) I was running a hospice in Los Angeles which
was a hospice for people who had come out of the prison system
in the United States and were dying of AIDS. We had about 25 residents,
90 per cent of whom were using something, anything usually to
self-medicate or to deal with what was happening to them. In LA,
the particular epidemics at the moment are crack cocaine, although
that is on the decline, and crystal amphetamine. We had a resident
called Daniel who was about 23 and had been hooked on crystal
meth for some years. A hospice is not a prison, people can come
and visit and go out and visit the community, so he was able to
keep his habit supplied. Every time that he was coming down from
a two or three day bout of use of crystal meth, he was desperate
to get treatment, but we could never find it for him, which is
a common enough story there as here. In the end, as he was so
violent and so disruptive, he was discharged again to the street
where he died. To me, that was the most memorable of many experiences
where not only were people who were using treated with disregard
in my experience but, also when they were on the lookout for treatment
or support or some kind of intervention, they often could not
find it. I suppose that led me to become more involved in the
work when I returned to the UK.
1354. Mrs Humphreys?
(Mrs Humphreys) I am also one of those parents who
was very ignorant about drugs and the whole thing until it happened
to us. My son was a student and what I have learnt since is that
lots of students smoke cannabis and they also quite like to go
clubbing and take ecstasy. Most of them do not have any problems
with drugs, they just have a problem with the law. When my son
was caught, he told the truth, that he was taking a turn to get
them for his friends. Ecstasy is a Class A drug, that is supply
of a Class A drug and you have to go to prison. It was just out
of the blue. We have three really great sons. He was at university;
the other two are graduates. We had no worries and our son did
not have a drug problem. There was nothing we could do; he told
the truth and we had to wait. He went along eight months later,
was sentenced and went to prison for two-and-a-half years. The
university was mavellous, they kept his place and he went back
and got his degree and went on to a masters, but it was a shattering
experience for all of us. We had to learn so much about what children
do and the fact that we cannot really control them. You can try
everything and they are decent kids, not bad people, just people
who are using drugs, and they are not even all that foolish. A
lot of them certainly know a lot more than parents and more than
most people. They have made a considered decision and they know
what they are doing and we let them buy contaminated drugs on
the streets and, to my mind, that is why most of the accidents
1355. When you say that your son took a considered
decision, there are those who would say that he knew what the
(Mrs Humphreys) I know. You can always say that people
know the consequences but they do not really. People still smoke,
people still do things, and somebody has made this law and has
decided that some drugs are legal and some are not and it is so
haphazard. Some are much more dangerous that are legal and they
are all controlled. Yes, he knew he was breaking the law but they
all must know that and they still do it and hope they will not
get caught. What we have learnt is that you must never tell the
truth if you get caught because you will be in serious trouble.
If he had kept quiet, he would not have gone to prison. As a parent
who has brought up my child to tell the truth, I think it is terrible
that it was the truth that got him into so much trouble.
1356. Thank you. We will come back to that in
a moment. Ms Williams?
(Ms Williams) My name is Tina Williams and I am from
a little town in the north-east called Stockton. About five years
ago, I found out that my son was using heroin. He did not live
at home at the time, he lived with his girlfriend a few streets
away. That is when my nightmare began. I tried to access services
for him but there were no services and not only were there no
services but there was the "shame and blame" culture
where they said to him that, if he could not manage on 20 mls
of methadone after he had waited six months, then it was his fault,
not theirs. Then, it would be my fault because I was not tough
enough, that I should chuck him out onto the streets, that I should
refuse him a bath. This was the kind of support that we got from
our local services and they still continue to peddle that type
of information. That is why we set up PANIC which is a group of
parents and users. Let us face it, I am not going to be well until
he is well. He is part of my family and I cannot give up on him.
Just to carry on with my story, he eventually returned home and
kept saying, "Mam, mam, I need help, I cannot cope."
I watched him go through withdrawal after withdrawal and he has
cried and he has been rolling in agony on the floor. I have gone
to doctors who have said, "Give him some Milk of Magnesia."
We would not let animals suffer the effects of a withdrawal but
we let human beings go through it. In the end, it came down to
a moral dilemma for me because he did not have anyone. I did not
want him to stay but I was not going to chuck him out onto the
streets either because what good does that do? Some parents could
not cope because the kids have stolen everything in the house,
and then the parents have had to go and see their kids laid in
coffins. So, I kept him at home and I was put in that moral dilemma
that I did not want him to stay. I did not want him to hurt anybody
in the community. I love my community; it is a lovely little community
and we all try and pull together there because we are all part
of the community. I have had to fund his habit and, in the end,
I went to Mo Mowlamshe was a local MPand I begged
her for help because I had tried everything else. I had been to
the health authority; I had tried the lot and got nowhere. In
the end, we were able to access some residential rehabilitation.
Methadone did not work for him. He has no veins left in his body;
all his neck veins went; all his groin veins went. However, it
did not make any difference, there was still a five month waiting
list. There is no such thing as an emergency. That was it. He
could not take methadone; it used to give his nightmares; he used
to feel sick; his stomach was cramped all the time. We have got
him into a rehab now but this is a number of years down the line
and I do not know what quality of life he has. I am pleased to
say that he is in a rehab and he is fine. I just wish that help
could have been there sooner because he has thrombosis in his
legs and he has a lot of nerve damage and vein damage, but at
least he is alive. I am here really to ask that we do not let
people suffer like that any more. It is an illness. He said to
me, "Mam, it takes all the control away, it controls you."
You can see in someone's eyes if they need a fix because they
are not themselves any more, their eyes look straight past you.
There are times when he has stolen the telly and things in the
house and he has cried afterwards because, as soon as he has had
his fix, he is full of remorse and has said how sorry he is. He
has said, "Mam, phone the police. I do not blame you. Get
the police. Get me put away." I have wondered what the point
of that would be because most of them come out and they will use
again and, like you say, they can get drugs in there. I just hoped
and hoped and we have tried to fight this together and it is your
worst nightmare. If you speak to the family, everybody is affected:
my grandson is affected as are his brothers and sisters. There
have been no holidays for five years. The home has just really
stood there, it has stood still because time has stood still for
me. Just like any parent, if you have a child and that child is
sick, you drop everything to try and pick that child up. That
is why I feel so sad for people who have lost their children and
for people who are still dying. In this country, three people
die a day from addiction and I think it can all be avoided. If
the services were in place, then death could be avoided. Like
you have heard, my son is a kind, kind lad. There is not a nicer
kid going. He is very, very kind. That is what we find when we
work with them, that they are most grateful for anything that
you can give them and any help they can get.
1357. You were saying that PANIC is an advice
service for families.
(Ms Williams) It is an advice service, it is a support
service; it takes them to hospital; it will do anything. It will
do anything to try and get them back onto the right road, get
them help and make them well. We will do whatever it takes to
get them the right services that they need.
1358. How is that funded?
(Ms Williams) All we have is £20,000; we got
that from the local council who supports us very well. It is not
a lot of money. We have premises to run from that and we had to
get the premises put together, and we run a 24 hour help line.
A lot of it is done by volunteers. Just last week we got a new
GP service in our town, it is a specialist drug service, and they
had given PANIC all the appointments and we ran all day and picked
them all up from the homes and took them into that service and
they were running after the car saying, "Please take me,
please take me." In our town, we have at least 2,000 heroin
users and it is only a small town.
1359. When you say "our town", are
you talking about Stockton or Teesside in general?
(Ms Williams) I am talking about Stockton. We have
a population of 170,000 and there are at least 2,000 heroin users.
That is a conservative estimate, there are probably more.