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International Drug Day

My own personal story

By Warren Vinciguerra

Warren Vinciguerra on international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.

As it's the UN's International Day against drug abuse and the illegal drug trade, I've written piece on my own experiences of using drugs.

In the beginning ...

Drugs have always been around us, but it was the 1960’s when recreational use really became a ‘thing’. It was fashionable and even acceptable to use drugs for pleasure. Cannabis and LSD were particularly associated with the ‘Summer of Love’, music festivals and student life. Bands like the Beatles and The Stones became known for using drugs and added to the desire to experiment among young people. Music and drugs have always been linked – in the 80s House Music brought with it the use of MDMA.

I grew up in the 70s and started smoking and drinking young. Drugs soon followed; I was soon smoking cannabis, snorting speed, doing cocaine and dropping LSD. And by my 17th birthday the new designer drug ecstasy was added to the mix. By my early 20s I started using heroin. My heroin use ended up being what brought me into recovery. Some of the friends I grew up died of heroin addiction, and I wanted to live. So for me, starting to use heroin flagged up the danger of continuing to follow this path.

When I started using drugs, I received many messages that drugs were not harmful and that they were fun. But this was not my experience; I encountered years of distress as a result of using. In the 1980s it was more difficult to get hold of drugs and the methods of obtaining them were pretty dangerous – I’d end up hanging around phone boxes, alleyways, drug houses, and pubs to score. Cocaine was very expensive, so speed (amphetamine) was the  common pub-scene drug. The common form of cannabis available was cannabis resin (Indian/Moroccan). Heroin wasn’t freely available, in fact, it was very underground with many secret users.

Partying through the 80s

In the late 1980s skunk infiltrated the market, which led to cannabis resin becoming very scarce. With MDMA coming into force in the late ’80s during the house music scene, clubs became the perfect place to obtain a variety of drugs especially powder cocaine. The house scene came with a high consequence; many partygoers developed psychiatric issues and were known as ecstasy casualties.

Heroin on the rise

In the early 90s heroin began to be openly sold on street corners with the consequence of a large increase in the substitute drug - methadone. Crack cocaine was also sold in conjunction with heroin therefore leading to a double addiction epidemic. The crime rate increased with many prisons becoming overpopulated.  Drug-related deaths also increased.

Tech revolution

As technology advanced dealing drugs became easier and distribution more advanced. Mobile phones, delivery drivers, the internet (dark web), Internet apps (Snap chat) and text messaging made is easier and quicker than ever to get hold of drugs. This has led to a catastrophic effect on society as a whole.

Recovery from addiction

Treatment for addiction has advanced over the last few decades. Many different approaches have been tried and tested and the private sector has developed into a huge industry with treatment available all over the world. For the public sector, harm minimisation is the method of choice – and there are very few abstinence-based NHS Units. Staff in both public and private treatment centres are all of a high standard, the main difference is there is less waiting time for private services, and they tend to provide a more comfortable setting for clients.

Addict-to-addict support - a key component of recovery

The internet has given young adults more awareness of the long term dangers of drug use, yet drug use still remains high among this group, so education doesn’t necessarily act as prevention. What’s proved to work well is using recovering addicts as workers in the addiction field – they provide empathy and understanding of what the addict in recovery faces on their journey and is more likely to be able to identify and pass on the message.

Early intervention

One of the big changes in the mental health sector is early intervention. This has managed to reduce the amount of psychiatric hospital admissions for addiction. Early intervention has been shown to help prevent relapse and the availability of help early in the relapse process can significantly help prevent long term relapses.

Treatment options

Unfortunately, in the UK, many public and private treatment facilities have been closed. This is due to the government withdrawing funding. This means high-cost private treatment is often the only option. For many addicts, private residential rehab is simply not an option – not only is cost prohibitive, it’s also not always possible for people to take a month or more off work and to be far away from their families while in treatment. What’s desperately needed is high-quality non-residential treatment that’s affordable. Help Me Stop is the first to provide this service at our Acton centre. And we plan to open more in the near future.


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