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The fruitless battle to access help for her drug addict daughter convinced Kate McKenzie that heroin should be prescribed on the NHS.
To most people looking at my life from the outside, I seemed to have a pretty perfect existence. Two beautiful daughters, now aged 18 and 21, my husband a finance director on a good salary and for me an interesting career designing interiors for historical buildings. We lived in a beautiful Georgian property in Brighton overlooking the sea – picture perfect!
Yet when I sat next to people at dinner parties and was asked what my children did, my answer shattered that picture.
My eldest daughter Hannah has been a heroin addict now for over three years, a fact I have never tried to hide. Shocking people with my answer, it always provoked a response, yet never the one I expected. Many people would then confide that their son, daughter, niece, nephew or friend had drug problems too, and then the whole sorry tale of addiction poured out. It seemed to me that there is a large sector of society that keeps this pain hidden, too embarrassed to admit to having a drug addict in the family. Somehow, we believe that drug addiction only happens on sink estates in the deprived areas of large cities. But heroin takes no notice of income, class, race or religion. It feeds on vulnerability and that can be found anywhere.
During the past three years spent trying to get help for my daughter I became enmeshed in the most complex, bureaucratic and punitive system involving social services, housing, hospitals and, of course, the police. To someone like me, reasonably intelligent, articulate and not off my head on drugs, it was an absolute nightmare to navigate around the system; for a confused addict it was impossible. I spent my days arguing with the various agencies trying to access help and support, and my nights rehearsing my daughter's funeral in my head. No wonder that after two years I had a breakdown. Fortunately, it was probably the best thing that happened to me and allowed me at last to take a step back and look at the wider picture.
It was at this point that Hannah and I met Jane Treays and decided to take part in the Cutting Edge documentary, Mum, Heroin and Me, which will be broadcast on Thursday night. We both felt very strongly that the film would dispel many of the myths surrounding heroin, highlighting just how awfully depressing and dull the life of an addict really is. I wanted people to know that the bureaucratic systems were simply unworkable when dealing with people who could not or would not work within their constraints. I began to realise that if heroin was prescribed to long-term addicts it would remove the pressure of how to obtain the money for the next fix. This would then allow addicts to access the help they really need, and so doing would benefit the rest of us who are victims of their life of crime.
Ultimately, I hope that the government will change its policies on drugs in order to protect our vulnerable teenagers from this epidemic and to help those already in its grip.
For Hannah, seeing her life unfold on film has at last made her realise how sordid it had become, and she flew to South Africa last Saturday to start a five-month detox. For me, the last year has seen my marriage disintegrate and my health suffer. To have my daughter back fit and whole is all I ask.
This is related to a program that aired on channel 4 in the UK tonight, entitled Heroin, Mum and Me. Discussion thread for that program: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=70098