‘One of my friends literally died in my arms’
ROBERT, 46, from Possilpark in Glasgow, has been clean for almost eight years and is now working with Shelter’s Time for Change project. He started using hard drugs as a teenager and was soon taking “everything going”. “Heroin, methadone, prescription drugs, cocaine, crack, you name it,” he said. “I was running away from a lot of things that were giving me a lot of pain – problems with my family, with relationships. I had no understanding of how to cope with that pain so I took drugs to help me deal with it.”
In reality, his chaotic lifestyle led him to experience even more trauma. “One good friend literally died in my arms,” he said. “Others that I knew, particularly when I was homeless, would disappear. You’d ask about them and someone would say ‘Yeah, they’re dead’.”
After several years he was prescribed methadone but without any additional therapy on offer, he felt unable to give up street drugs and continued to “top up” for years, treating methadone as yet another “buzz”. It was only when offered a treatment programme while in prison for drugs offences that he managed to get clean, this time with the help of anger management courses and cognitive behavioural therapy.
On release he ended up sofa surfing. Many people released from either prison or rehab often end up using again when homeless and sleeping on a friend’s couch. But even when Robert was given accommodation, it was in area frequented by drug dealers and he ended up leaving it as he was scared that he would not be able to stay drug free if he stayed. Now, he says, he has “a very stable life” and lives with his partner, who is also an addiction services worker. He believes we need to do far more to stop people dying. “I think medical care might have improved,” he said. “But without some of the voluntary homeless organisations I don’t think people would be living as long as they do. It just breaks my heart to see people suffering because I’ve walked in their shoes. For me, there has to be a radical change made to our drug policy.”