Gearing down

Young people who have
misused drugs describe how they have been able to tackle their habits, with the
help of detox services for teenagers. Linda Green hears their stories.

At 17 Kim
made the brave decision that she wanted to come off heroin. Unfortunately the
drugs agency she went to was unable to help her because she was too young. With
no services for younger drug users in her area, Kim had to watch in frustration
as her older boyfriend was helped to get off heroin while she went on using.

When, some months
later, she was told that a new drugs agency for under-19s had opened in
Halifax, West Yorkshire, she went straight round to see a worker.

Kim, now 18, has made
enormous progress since that first chat at the HX1 Lifeline Project. She has
been supported through a detox programme on to the heroin substitute Subutex, a
high dose of buprenorphine, and has been off heroin for several months, apart
from one brief relapse.

It has been a long
haul for Kim who started using marijuana and ecstasy at 14 after discovering
that the man she’d grown-up calling “dad” was not her real father. She ran away
from home, got expelled from school and ended up living with her boyfriend who
introduced her to cocaine. She ended the relationship and got off cocaine but
her next boyfriend was a heroin user.

She says: “I tried to
get him off it but then I had a go of it and a habit slowly picked up.”

By the time Kim
turned up at HX1, her drug use had forced her to quit her job and she was
desperate for help. Fortunately, she has been very happy with the service she
has received. “The support has been really good. They tried to find out what
would be the best way to get me off heroin and what would be the best time to
get me off it.

“They also warn you
about certain things. Like I’d smoked heroin until the last two weeks of my
habit when I started injecting. When I came in to see the doctor she told me
that my arms weren’t right for it because I was too thin.

“I like seeing the
doctor here because she speaks to me properly whereas if you go to a normal
doctor and tell them you’re a heroin user and you want to get off it they look
at you like there’s no hope in the world for you.”

Kim likes the
informal atmosphere at the project and the fact that HX1 is prepared to liaise
with other drugs agencies. She explains: “Without my boyfriend getting off
heroin I couldn’t get off it and vice versa. But here they understand that with
us two living together they need to sort something out, so my worker will ring
my boyfriend’s worker at the adult service and say ‘Kim’s going on a substitute
this week, can you sort something out for Bradley?’”

On the occasion when
Kim did relapse, she says the support of her key worker was vital in her
recovery. “I was very depressed. I came in here and cried my eyes out. I needed
to hear someone say, ‘it’s not that bad, you’ve done really well, this is just
a hiccup’, and that’s what they did. With their support, I’m confident I will
be able to stay clean in the future and start college in September.”

Catrina started using
cannabis when she was 12. She dropped out of school at 13 and began smoking
heroin at 16 when she was living in a hostel. She then met a teenage boy who
told her that injecting heroin would give her a much bigger buzz.

After several months
of injecting, Catrina realised that heroin had taken over her life. She says:
“I couldn’t go a day without having heroin, I started to rattle, my legs were
aching, it was really bad. I got really lazy, I wouldn’t go out, I just stopped
in bed all day. It got to the point where I decided I’d had enough.”

On the recommendation
of a friend, Catrina visited the Lifeline Kirklees Young Person’s Service in
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. She was assigned a key worker who helped her to detox
from heroin.

She says: “They were
really good, they asked me how I felt and what I wanted to do. It was hard
coming off though. You get really emotional because you can’t have no heroin
for 12 hours. I couldn’t have come off without their help. The best thing was
that my key worker was really proud of me for getting off it.”

prescription of the heroin substitute Subutex is gradually being reduced and
she is confident that once she comes off, she will be off for good. “I got
offered some heroin yesterday and I said no. That was a real test and I know
I’ll never go on gear again.”

Martyn took cannabis,
ecstasy and speed when he was at school. But it was only when he started
smoking heroin at 16 that his drug use became a problem.

“I lost contact with
all my proper friends and I got mixed up with some dodgy people, thieves and
other unsavoury characters,” he explains.

Martyn managed to
fund his heroin use through his job and says it’s a myth that all drug users
turn to crime. But in the end he realised that he had to stop taking heroin.

“You’ve got to face
it if you’ve got a problem, instead of kidding yourself that you haven’t. In
the end I went to the doctor’s and said that I had a problem and he referred me

Martyn, then 17, went
to the Lifeline Kirklees Young Person’s Service because the adult service in
Huddersfield had a four-month waiting list. He was helped to come off heroin on
to Subutex and his prescription has now been reduced to 0.8mg.

He says: “I’ve been
lucky with my key worker, he’s really good. The best thing has been being able
to get on a prescription and getting support from someone who understands
what’s going on.”

Martyn, now 18, is
looking forward to coming off Subutex completely and has this message for young
drug users. “The service here is great if you want to use it, you’ve just got
to want to use it. They can’t make you stop taking drugs, you’ve got to want to
do it for yourself.”

All names of young
people in this article have been changed to protect identities.

My life

Goody, 17, describes how epilepsy affects her education and relationships.

September of last year I had my first epileptic fit, except at the time I
didn’t know it. I remember thinking that I was being really silly as the fit
began, that I was just over-tired or something but then I fell off the bed and
that’s the last thing I remember. When the story was being told back to me by
my friends I found it really funny but for them it was difficult to deal with.
Looking back I think I should have been terrified like them but I wasn’t. When
something big like that happens to someone it seems that other people are more
frightened by it than you are. I know that was true in my case – my sister says
that finding me having a fit was one of the scariest experiences of her life.

Immediately things
changed as I was tired, suffering from bad headaches and further fits but I
still didn’t know what was wrong. Eventually it got to breaking point and after
various tests I was diagnosed. You’d expect it would have hit me like a
bombshell but I was detached from the situation and I kept being told how well
I was dealing with everything. I’d just begun my AS levels and new people had
started at school. I took my medication, tried to get on with things, and meet
these people. However, it wasn’t that I easy. I was still having occasional
fits, I was exhausted and not coping very well with my work. I didn’t get to
know many people because I was so in my own world. Everything got on top of me.
I suddenly realised I wasn’t coping with it at all, everyone still told me how
impressed they were but I knew different. I was suffering from bad side-effects
from my medication and became really sad and withdrawn. I was having a delayed reaction
– it was hard to say to people that, two months after my diagnosis, I was
suddenly finding it hard. I felt isolated, my parents were trying anything to
make me feel better. They told me I could move schools or even leave – I was
tempted, it seemed a good way out. But instead I took some time off. At first
nothing changed, but during Christmas I had a lot of time to sort things out
and it did get better.

The fact
I’ve got epilepsy is, of course, always in my mind, but somehow it still hasn’t
sunk in. But I hope that the worst is over now and I guess it’s up to me to
make sure that it is.

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