A group of people from Belfast have come together to discuss their experiences with drug addiction in the hope that hearing what they have to say might help others affected by this issue. The group includes parents and friends of drug victims. It started up when Mark Officer arranged for a group of individuals to take part in a Belfast to Bangor walk after the drug-related death of his friend Jamie Burns. Those who participated in the walk raised money for a Falls Community Council drugs programme.
Jamie died in 2016 after taking what is believed to have been a single ecstasy tablet. Mark said, “That really hit me hard. He wasn’t someone who took drugs: He always said ‘I’ve tried it and I don’t like it, I’d never do it again’. He just made a harsh decision, and it cost his life. There are people who have problems, but in his case, he took one drug out of character, and he died. It was horrible getting the call. I couldn’t believe it, that it could happen to such a nice guy. Someone made a mistake, and it cost him his life.”
Mark brought together ’27 strong heads’ for the walk and said, “We wanted people who wanted to make a difference. It’s a group of people who I think will work with each other and help make a change themselves in our communities.”
One member of the group is Arlene Shannon whose son Liam has been struggling with drug addiction for the past eighteen months. She said, “My son started taking drugs 18 months ago. He started on cocaine. He has been in Beechcroft; he has tried to take his own life many times. The very first time he took drugs was when somebody gave him ‘grass’ when he was 12. It made him a paranoid mess, and he didn’t cross the door for two years. Whenever he started feeling better again, he crossed the door and started taking drugs. I’ve been fighting for a year to get him into a secure unit – but despite all he’s been through, he doesn’t meet the criteria.
She added, “It’s 2017, and he’s tried six times already. It’s terrible; it’s like living in hell. I’ve done everything I can do.”
Another mother struggling while watching her child in the grip of a drug addiction is Charlene Koeva. She said, “I think there needs to be more street outreach. There are a lot of kids who go out to town to have a bit of craic and then end up taking heroin. I don’t want any other mother to have to be like me. If we can help one other child, then that’s a job well done.”
Another member who did not wish to be named has struggled with addiction in the past and got involved after losing a loved one to drugs. She explained, “People have a stereotype about people on drugs: They’re junkies, they don’t matter. But it is the addiction that makes a person like that. You take away the addiction and you get a real person. These people go into houses and steal and do whatever they have to do to feed their addiction. But there’s not enough help on the ground to separate the person from the addiction.”
She added, “I think there has to be a certain level of self-responsibility. In my own case when I was blaming everyone else around me, and I was not taking the blame – it was only when I accepted some responsibility that I could get rid of it. No matter how many times you’re told – it can take a long time to sink in. When it does, it’s like a light bulb being switched on in your head.