MARY’S* son Roger* is currently planning a new start in life — for the second time in the past decade.
He is now just finished drug addiction treatment and is hoping to remain drug free for the rest of his life.
However, both he and Mary, and their family, have been at this point before. His latest stint in drug treatment comes more than five years after initially becoming clean.
And while Mary is delighted that he realised that he needed to go for help a year ago, she is secretly worried that her beloved son could again fall foul of his addiction in years to come.
However, she believes firmly that her son has an illness which needs to be treated in a health setting, just like any other illness.
While he was never in prison for committing a crime to fund his drug habit, she has met other users who have been.
She believes that sending someone to prison for possession of drugs could hamper their chances of having a better life in the future.
She says: “From a family perspective, someone who is caught in possession of drugs for their own use should not be dealt with by putting that person in prison or giving them a suspended sentence.
“When and if people get their lives together afterwards, that is hanging over them for the rest of time.”
She says that a person’s job prospects or emigration plans could be destroyed by one simple mistake from several years before, if drugs possession for personal use remains a crime instead of a health issue.
A year ago, the then Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, unveiled plans for significant reforms to the possession of drugs for personal use in line with its commitment to pursue a public health approach to drug use in Ireland.
The approach, labelled the Health Diversion Approach, was due to be rolled out on a phased basis, from this autumn.
Under the Health Diversion Approach, a person in possession of drugs for personal use would engage with the Health Service Executive to attend health screening and brief intervention (known as Saor).
The Health Service Executive would then provide health professionals in all Community Healthcare Organisations to deliver this service for people referred by An Garda Síochána.
At the time, the then Minister for Drugs, Catherine Byrne, said such a measure was a hugely important step in developing a public health approach to drug use in Ireland.
For Roger, it has been a long road through drug addiction. Having been off drugs at one point in his addiction for close to a year, he relapsed and dashed his family’s hopes that he was finally leaving drugs behind him. It was only one of many times that he had relapsed.
When he managed to go for over five years without succumbing to his addiction, his family felt that he had overcome his crippling substance dependence.
However, as Mary says, life presented challenges that he felt he could not overcome without leaning on drugs as a crutch, and once again his life spiralled out of control.
Today, he is once again planning for the future.
Mary says he is now living with the guilt of having relapsed.
She says: “From what I have seen with him, all I can definitely say is that it is an illness.”
His addictions started when he was in his teens, and gardaí were regularly coming to the family home as he was getting in trouble.
He was given some suspended sentences for public order incidents, and he also has convictions relating to drugs for personal use. Mary is thankful he never was sent to prison for his offences.
She believes firmly that Ireland needs to prioritise increased access to treatment for drug addicts like her son.
When he reached breaking point and realised he once again needed help, she says it took a long time for him to be accepted into a treatment centre and he had to regularly attend Arbour House in Cork to ensure he remained clean of drugs while waiting for a place on a treatment programme.
She says: “He was waiting a number of months before he got a place.”
She says: “The waiting is the hardest part for families, who are terrified every time the addict goes outside their door.”
There were occasions when her son became homeless because of his addiction and she finds it difficult to hear dismissive remarks by people about homeless people on Cork’s streets.
She recalls one conversation with a man who told her he blamed “the parents” when they both saw a homeless person who was addicted to drugs on the street as they passed by.
She found the throwaway remark extremely difficult to hear because she and her family have worked hard to keep Roger safe from his addiction.
She says: “Their [drug user] dignity has been stripped from them. A lot of us parents have to leave them go homeless and it is so difficult.”
She finds it impossible to walk past a homeless person on the streets of Cork now without stopping to give them a cigarette or some money.
Her son used all kinds of drugs, including heroin and tablets. However, she is grateful that his body cannot tolerate heroin and he becomes extremely ill from it, making it less attractive to him and also ensuring he does not get addicted to it.
She says: “He can go off heroin faster than other drugs.”
She believes his addiction started when he began to use weed as a means of release from torment in his head.
Dual diagnosis of addiction and mental illness is an area which Mary believes needs to be addressed.
A research study carried out by the Department of Applied Psychology at UCC during 2017 on the extent of dual diagnosis and ‘adverse childhood experiences’ showed that more than 50% of treatment clients at Tabor Lodge in Cork showed a diagnosis of mental health challenge.
Mary knows her son has mental health difficulties, particularly with anxiety, but she says it is hard to know which came first — those issues, or his addiction to drugs.
She says she hates drug dealers “with a passion” and recalls having had drug dealers come to her door on a number of occasions looking for money to settle Roger’s debts.
She says she fought against them, and that, “A mother will die for her children.”
She believes that many drug users are addicts who should be treated sensitively from a health perspective.
However, she acknowledges that others are criminals who do not care whose lives they are damaging.
And as Roger tries once again to get on with his life after treatment, Mary says: “As for my own life, I have to get my life back again.”
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