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Rehabilitation unit ‘could save young people’s lives’

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A RECOVERING heroin addict, who says the class-A drug stole two decades of her life, has heaped praise on a planned teenage-focused rehabilitation unit that, she believes, could save the lives of young people in Jersey.

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The mother-of-one, who is in her late 30s, was hooked on heroin from the age of 18 – an addiction that spiralled out of control and led her to lose her job, home, family and almost her child and her life.

It was not until four years ago that she first sought help from abstinence-based rehabilitation charity Silkworth.

After going through their residential programme twice, the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, has now been clean from heroin for four years and from the powerful synthetic drug, ethylphenidate, for two and a half years.

The Silkworth Charity Group is now planning to introduce the Island’s first residential rehabilitation facility for teenagers as young as 16 as well as an outpatient and education service to tackle addiction and, primarily, ‘bad relationships’ with drink and drugs among the Island’s young people.

Today the recovering addict said such a service was vitally important in Jersey and had it been around when she started to go off the rails aged 13 her life might have been very different. ‘It is much easier to fix a semi-broken kid than it is a completely destroyed adult,’ she said. ‘If you could give myself and my family ten, 15, 20 years back that would be massive.

‘Who knows where I would be and what I would be doing now if I could have had the right help when I was younger? If this helps even one young person, it’ll be worth it.’

Speaking about her addiction, the woman said her life fell apart between the ages of 13 and 16. She found her grandfather dead, her parents split up and she was raped and sexually abused.

‘I started smoking weed, then it was taking acid and then it was heroin. I was an addict by 18 until I was 35. I turned to legal highs too and they are the worst – Magic [Crystals], ethylphenidate. I was taking half a gram of the stuff and I was properly off my face. It is the worst thing I have ever touched in my life.’

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The powerful psychoactive drug, once readily and legally available to buy online for pocket-money prices, was once used by Russian soldiers to keep them awake during the Second World War. In 2015, the JEP spoke to a heroin addict serving time at HMP La Moye who said the drug was more lethal than heroin and more addictive than cocaine. The inmate said he had known users to douse themselves and their homes in petrol because of the extreme paranoia the drug caused.

Speaking about her life, the anonymous Islander says she managed to hold down a job in the finance industry until she was 26 while hooked on heroin but, she added: ‘Who wants to employ someone who comes in three days a week or goes on two-hour lunch breaks to score?

‘I knew my life was ruined when I was 19. When you’re an addict the abnormal becomes normal. I was carrying a bag round with me with syringes in, that’s obviously not normal but it was normal for me.

‘I tried to kill myself a few times but I only got higher. Drugs take everything from you and they do not discriminate. I had a great upbringing.’

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She added: ‘There was no help when I was young, there was only Alcohol and Drugs [Service] which provided maintenance prescriptions. There was no after care. But things were different then and they have progressed.

‘The only help for detox was at St Saviour’s [mental-health unit] but again there was no after care.’

The recovering addict says life is now the best it has ever been for her and she has a strong bond with her parents and ‘beautiful’ daughter. She is also looking at studying again to start a new career.

The Silkworth Charity Group currently runs a 12-week residential rehabilitation programme for anyone over 18. Under the proposed new scheme, which could be offered from the site of the former Brig Y Don children’s home in St Clement, anyone aged between 16 and 25 would be treated at the facility.

Jason Wyse, chief executive of the charity, said it might not be commonplace to find ‘addicts’ as young as 16 but he stressed it was important to help and support young people who had ‘bad relationships’ with drink or drugs.

According to figures released last year, rates of alcohol-specific hospital admissions for under-18s were significantly higher in Jersey than in England, for both girls and boys. Statistics from the Alcohol Profile show that almost one in five 14- and 15-year-olds who responded reported drinking ‘regularly or occasionally’. Less than half (49%) of that age group reported never being really drunk, while at ages 16 and 17 that dropped to less than a quarter (23%).

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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