View attachment 23005 Heroin use in women is up by 45 per cent since 2007. Two former addicts share their stories with Caroline Marcus.
SHE had a baby daughter to look after but teenage mother Lee Tilley was so worn down by an abusive partner she turned to heroin to escape a life she thought had no future.
Tilley was surrounded by drugs, her then partner mixing in bad circles, but she resisted heroin for a long time.
Only when her boyfriend began belting her to the point she had to be hospitalised, and the stresses of being a new -- and very young -- mother took their toll, did she turn to heroin.
At first she hated it; the lack of control and the fact she couldn't keep her eyes open, but the escape from reality proved addictive.
"The thing that appealed to me was I was escaping my reality which was controlling and abusive," she told The Sunday Telegraph. By the age of 20, Tilley was smoking heroin daily, dealing the drug and stealing from strangers to fund her habit.
Tilley, now 30, had what you'd describe as a normal, middle-class upbringing in Newcastle and Sydney, but her world was turned on its head at 16 after meeting a boy.
He became heavily involved in drugs and beat her.
She stuck with him for the sake of their daughter, Tayla, and because she had no self-esteem. When smoking heroin no longer provided the necessary fix, she began injecting, at first daily, then a few times a day.
"Once you have heroin, it's very easy to get addicted and it's not just that you want drugs, you get sick if you don't have it."
Tilley was imprisoned twice, but it was only when a judge agreed to grant her bail to attend a rehabilitation program that she broke her habit that spanned seven years on and off.
Daughter Tayla, now 11, said she was proud of her mother for turning her life around. "My mum means the world to me, I love her to the moon and back," Tayla said.
Tilley, who finished rehabilitation in September 2009, is now halfway through a Bachelor of Business degree and working full-time. At least 1.1 million Australian women used illicit drugs last year, an increase of 15 per cent on the past three years, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
About 15,000 women used heroin -- up 45 per cent from 2007. The use of cocaine, prescription drugs and hallucinogens like acid were also up.
At Odyssey House, where Tilley rehabilitated, chief executive James Pitts said the proportion of women to men had increased from 20:80 to 30:70 in the past 18 months.
The Salvation Army's NSW drug rehabilitation services for women have been in such demand, they have a waiting list for their 68 beds.
Both services say the increase could be due to women trying to emulate traditionally male substance abuse behaviour.
Trauma in childhood or adolescence, particularly sexual abuse, were also risk factors.
Like Tilley, 23-year-old Sally Bruce found a teenage romance with the wrong man a springboard into dangerous drug addiction.
"It all started so innocently. Once every three to four weeks I started using ecstasy, this then escalated to speed then ice," she said. "I started injecting ice or speed because my boyfriend was."
She was also dealing to help pay for the drugs, and was picked up by police three times for possession and deemed supply charges between July and December 2009.
Now, she is happily living with a new boyfriend, Michael, whom she met at rehabilitation and is hoping to work with children.
November 06, 2011 12:00AM
Image 1: Lee Tilley with her daughter Tayla Welsh in Eagle Vale. Picture: Rohan Kelly Source: The Sunday Telegraph
Image 2:Sally Bruce 23 of Campbelltown was addicted to ice and was selling drugs to support her habit. She recently graduated from a drug rehabilitation program. Picture: Angelo Soulas Source: The Sunday Telegraph