Sav­ing a son from his ad­dic­tion

Hastings Leader - - News -

Mandy Whyte started to write the story of her son’s long-term meth ad­dic­tion so she could un­der­stand why he be­came an ad­dict and how she could help him re­cover from the drugs that had dev­as­tated his life.

From Taranaki, both Mandy and her son Hemi (not his real name) were liv­ing over­seas at the time: Whyte in In­done­sia and Hemi on Aus­tralia’s Sun­shine Coast. The book, called Danc­ing on a Ra­zor’s Edge, has been pub­lished by Welling­ton’s The Cuba Press.

Dis­cov­er­ing the true ex­tent of her son’s drug prob­lem and that the likely re­sults were per­ma­nent psy­chosis, prison or death, Mandy launched a res­cue mis­sion to save his life, tak­ing charge of his care and re­cov­ery.

“I’d spent much of 10 years urg­ing Hemi from the side­lines to get help,“Mandy says, “but things only got worse. He was wast­ing away be­fore our eyes. He’d in­ter­sected with ev­ery pos­si­ble so­cial ser­vice — po­lice, courts, hos­pi­tals, prison, em­ploy­ment, hous­ing, drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, men­tal health — and none of them had been able to stop him in­ject­ing crys­tal meth into his veins.”

Mandy man­aged to re­move her son from his life in Ca­bool­ture near Bris­bane and took him to re­hab in In­done­sia, where she kept him off drugs and en­cour­aged a health­ier life­style. Hemi re­turned to his old ways for a while, but Mandy got him back on track, with a new life that in­cluded com­pet­i­tive mixed mar­tial arts and a lot of love.

Mandy says so many fam­i­lies in New Zealand and Aus­tralia are be­ing dev­as­tated by meth ad­dic­tion with lit­tle relief. She says there are bet­ter ways to treat the prob­lem than puni­tive mea­sures through the courts and the con­ven­tional ap­proach to re­hab, which in­sists it’s up to the ad­dicts to choose to go clean, when they of­ten aren’t up to mak­ing de­ci­sions about their lives.

She be­lieves in em­pow­er­ing fam­i­lies to act on be­half of their loved ones, in­stead of keep­ing them out of the pic­ture by in­vok­ing pri­vacy laws, and wants to see drug users and their fam­i­lies dealt with through the health sys­tem rather than the jus­tice sys­tem.

“It’s a rights-based is­sue. My son had a right to live and a right to treat­ment and sup­port, but no agency was able to give him what he needed so I had to find a way to do it my­self.”

Mandy says it took a year of hell to ex­tract her son from his ad­dic­tion and an­other year of vig­i­lance to stop him go­ing back, but Hemi is now drug-free, a fa­ther and holds down a job. Pro­fes­sor Doug Sell­man, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Ad­dic­tion Cen­tre in Christchurch, has en­dorsed Mandy’s book.

“Ev­ery ad­dic­tion worker in Aus­trala­sia would do well to read this book for the de­scrip­tions of this mother’s de­ter­mined strug­gle to do the best for her ad­dicted son, her fraught at­tempts to ac­cess the ser­vices she needs, and her crit­i­cism of a sys­tem that de­mands peo­ple take per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ad­dic­tions when they are of­ten un­able to do so,” Doug says.

Mandy is a New Zealan­der who has worked for 30 years ad­vis­ing and man­ag­ing aid and de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes in New Zealand, Pa­cific Is­lands, Asia and cur­rently in the Solomon Is­lands. She was brought up in Taranaki but her New Zealand base is now on the Ka¯ piti Coast.

■ Mandy will be speak­ing about her book at War­dini Books in Have­lock North on Wed­nes­day, Septem­ber 26 at 5.30pm. All are wel­come.

Mandy Whyte

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