Norwich heroin deaths: ‘I ended up in a room with no money, no food and my partner dead’
PUBLISHED: 06:30 14 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:30 14 May 2018
Norwich has one of the highest heroin death rates of any city in England. Two former addicts talk about their years of addiction in the city and how they came out the other side.
John, 36, from Norwich, lost his partner last year to heroin. The recovering addict describes the devastating affect the drug has had on his life.
I was abused as a child.
By 11 or 12 I was angry and I had all this shame inside me.
I didn’t take drugs because I wanted to get high, I took them because they changed how I felt.
Growing up in London, I drank alcohol every day by the age of 12 and got kicked out of schools.
By the age of 14 I was taking cannabis, then ecstasy, cocaine and moved on to crack and heroin by my mid to late teens.
Nothing came close to heroin in terms of the buzz. Crack and cannabis had a massive affect on my mental health, but with heroin every muscle in your body is crying out for it.
In my early years and mid 20s I was heavily involved in crime and drug dealing.
I met a girl in my mid to late 20s, Laura. She was a prostitute and a heroin addict.
I was making money at the time from my own construction business. I was earning an honest living but still using heroin every day.
I thought I could function but it was totally unmanageable.
I would go in my van during a job and use heroin every couple of hours then go back and do the job. I was getting caught by customers and it all fell apart.
Laura ended up going to rehab in Norwich and we moved up here in 2010.
I managed to get clean from crack and heroin.
We lived in Lakenham with our two daughters. Everything was good and we had a really nice life for a few months.
Around 2011 one of the girls Laura was in rehab with slipped and started working as a prostitute.
We tried to help and took her in but she brought drugs into our house which led to us picking up drugs again.
It was a big mistake.
I lost my job and very quickly we started getting involved with London drug dealers.
Eventually I spent time in Hellesdon Hospital because I tried to kill myself. It was all too much.
My partner developed psychosis. She was in and out of mental institutions for two years.
In that time the kids got taken off us and then things just fell off a cliff edge.
We didn’t maintain the house, do any cleaning or buy food.
There are a lot of places in the city where you can eat for free. You can eat just enough there to take crippling hunger pangs away.
I couldn’t stop my drug use, I wanted to die every single night, then when I woke up I thought ‘I need drugs or money’. It is a constant cycle.
I was also addicted to prescription medications, Valium and Pregabalin.
I was put on them for years - it is a massive problem. Those prescription drugs are used as currency on the street.
Addiction is treated as a criminal problem or a choice but it is a mental problem.
I have got an addiction for more - not just heroin, I wanted more of everything.
Laura died from a drug overdose 11 months ago. When she died that was it for me.
I was with another addict one day in a bin shed injecting. I looked at myself and thought, if I don’t stop now I’m dead.
I saw the damage her death caused to the children, her family, my family and I didn’t want to add to that.
By September I was in rehab with the Norfolk Recovery Partnership.
The reality is I ended up in a room with no money, no food, with the curtains closed and my partner dead. There is no glamour in that.
For 18 days in rehab I had sweats, vomiting, no sleep and an overwhelming obsession to get some drugs.
But I didn’t want to die, that’s what kept me going.
In February this year I came out of rehab and I’m now living in a dry house.
I attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings every night. We are blessed in this city that there is at least one meeting every day.
At some point I would like to get involved in helping addicts and use my 24 years experience.
I would also like to get back to full-time employment.
Ultimately all the stuff that happened to me as a child is still there. I have all these years of drug addiction and chaos, the death of my partner and the fact I still don’t like how I feel.
But I go to the gym, see friends, it is about filling your time. I do talks in schools which helps build my self-esteem. You feel part of society. Stuff like talking to you shows I’m not a ‘dirty junkie’.
•‘I’ve lost about 20 friends to heroin’
Ian, 50, from Norwich, describes his years of heroin addiction.
I was part of the rave scene in Norwich in the late 80s. I took LSD and amphetamines and eventually moved on to heroin by the mid 90s.
I remember some people I used to go raving with started smoking heroin on tin foil. I used to look down on them but my curiosity got the better of me.
I tried it once and it just put me in a warm cocoon where everything seemed alright.
I started taking it once a week, I thought I wouldn’t get addicted.
The first time I realised I was addicted was when I couldn’t get any and had withdrawals.
You get really agitated, you can’t sleep, you get really hot then cold and then feel sick. It is horrible.
I was working full time for a big Norwich firm but I was becoming unreliable.
I had periods where I stopped using it and went cold turkey but every time I ended up back where I was before.
There was a period where I stopped using it and just drank instead but I was drinking like an alcoholic.
My daily life was picking up a bottle of methadone and drinking.
I ended up in hospital for six weeks aged 40 with liver damage.
I was soon back to where I started after hospital.
I hated every day of my life but friends normalise the lifestyle because they are all doing it.
I know lots of people who have died from heroin, I’ve lost about 20 friends.
It is a powerful drug but the problem is not the heroin, it is me.
When I stopped, the amount of dealers in Norwich was ten-fold to when I started, but Norwich is no different to any other city.
I used to get my money by begging, borrowing or stealing.
I was never homeless but I looked like a tramp.
In 2013 I approached my key worker at the Norfolk Recovery Partnership.
I was sick and tired of that life. I had hated it for a long time.
She suggested I go to rehab which I did.
I’ve now been abstinent of all drugs for four-and-a-half years.
There is quite a large recovery community in Norwich which is a good thing. Drugs have gone away for me but I’m under no illusion it could come back again.
I now want to get a job helping people recover.
•Ian and John give talks in schools through the St Martins Reality Check project. Call 01603 667 706 for more information.
•If your life is being impacted by addiction contact Change Grow Live in Norfolk
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