Norwich heroin deaths: ‘I said ‘are you OK?’ but I knew he was dead’
PUBLISHED: 17:06 12 May 2018 | UPDATED: 07:46 14 May 2018
Norwich has one of the highest heroin death rates of any city in England. What impact is it having and what is behind the rise?
Aged 30 he was six lines in a newspaper.
“Damien Prince, 30, from Earlham West Centre in Norwich, died on October 31.
“His body was found outside St Crispin’s House, between Duke Street and St George’s Street,” read the report in this newspaper on January 23.
Mr Prince died from a heroin overdose in a city with the highest rate of heroin deaths in east England.
Heroin claimed 17 lives in Norwich from 2014 to 2016, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
At 4.1 deaths per 100,000 people, the city has a higher rate of heroin deaths than Manchester, Liverpool and London.
It has the fifth highest rate of any city in England and Wales.
Mr Prince was found slumped by the bins between the office blocks of Cavell House and St Crispin’s by cleaning supervisor Neil Platten shortly before 7am on Tuesday October 31 last year.
He was sitting on the floor and holding a black rucksack.
“I shouted ‘are you alright mate?, I got no response’, Mr Platten said in a statement to an inquest last week.
“I shook him to try to get a response. He was very cold, I said ‘are you OK?’ but I knew he was dead.”
Mr Platten called 999 and police and a paramedic came.
Detectives found heroin and cocaine wraps as well as syringes on him. They also discovered calls on his phone to suspected drug dealers.
Mr Prince spent Sunday October 29, two days before his death, with partner Wendy Allen.
She had known him for about three years as a friend and they got together last year after he came out of prison.
She said in a statement to the inquest he would use heroin and crack two to three times a week.
He had discussed going into rehab and he would often talk about wanting to stop, she said.
He made several appointments with the Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP), which then had the contract to help addicts, but he had missed the meetings.
She believed he would never want to take his own life.
She said he was quite drunk on the Sunday and had been trying to get money from family members for drugs but they had refused.
He was playing loud music at his flat in Earlham that day and was drinking cider.
They had an argument about the loud music and she left.
Mr Prince’s mum, Pamela Nall, told the inquest in a statement she had a good relationship with her son but things became strained when he wanted money for drugs.
On the Sunday he asked her for money again and she eventually agreed to give him £50.
They met at St Stephens Street so she could him give the cash. “He seemed OK,” she said.
Mr Prince was also on a lot of prescription medication for depression and anxiety and his GP at Wensum Valley Medical Centre treated him with methadone.
“Mr Prince was well known at the surgery,” his GP said.
“He was well liked by staff who were sad to hear of his passing.”
Assistant coroner Yvonne Blake recorded a verdict of a drug-related death - something which has become increasingly common in the city after falling for years.
From 2014 to 2016 there were 36 drug-related deaths in Norwich, the highest number since 2009.
The rise nationally in heroin deaths has been partly put down to the ageing of the ‘Trainspotting generation’.
Named after the book and film about young men addicted to heroin, the ‘Trainspotting generation’ became addicted in the 1980s and 1990s.
And ONS figures show the death rate from drug misuse was higher for 40 to 49 years olds in 2016 than younger age groups.
A spokesman for charity Change Grow Live, which provides rehab services in Norfolk, said deprivation and an ageing generation of drug users were behind the rise in heroin deaths.
Figures from the ONS show a link between deprivation and drug misuse. Norwich has large pockets of poverty and is ranked second bottom in the country for social mobility.
But councils with more deprivation than Norwich, such as Hull, Hartlepool and Great Yarmouth, have lower death rates.
John, a recovering addict from London who moved to Norwich, said the availability of heroin was the same in the city as elsewhere in the UK.
But he said a lot of people migrated to Norwich which may explain the high death rate.
He called for the UK to follow Portugal’s example and decriminalise all drugs.
“Addiction is treated as a criminal problem or a choice but it is a mental problem,” he said.
“In my opinion the prohibition of drugs is just pumping money into gangsters’ pockets.
“In Portugal they have pumped money into rehab so when addicts come out of rehab they have a purpose.
“Rehab can get you off the drugs but if you have been an addict your whole life you have no skills or training and probably a criminal record. You are unemployable.”
Ian, who went through rehab in Norwich five years ago, said: “The war on drugs is making no difference to the supply of it.”
And he said methadone which is prescribed to users does not solve the problem. “You have to deal with yourself,” he said.
“There is a place for methadone but all the other stuff has to go with it.”
•What is being done about it?
Charity The Matthew Project is running a new group for those in recovery from substance abuse.
Chief executive Paul Martin said they wanted to help people in Norwich break out of the cycle of addiction.
“Your education may have been poor, or you may have other mental health and health issues to contend with,” he said.
“You may have housing issues and find everyday life a real challenge. So how do you find a new purpose in life?”
The charity used to be part of the Norfolk Recovery Partnership and ran drug rehab services.
But that contract was taken over by a charity called Change Grow Live (CGL) in April.
The charity wants to focus on early intervention with people at risk of becoming addicts. They offer workshops, interventions and one-to-one sessions.
Police have also been cracking down on London drug gangs bringing heroin into the city with the launch of Operation Gravity in 2016.
On Monday: Two former heroin addicts tell their stories