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‘It is an illness’ - Family’s heroin addiction warning as drug deaths rise

PUBLISHED: 07:41 07 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:38 07 August 2018

Tony Allen remembers his late son, John Allen, known as Sid, in Sid's bedroom. Sid died last year. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Tony Allen remembers his late son, John Allen, known as Sid, in Sid's bedroom. Sid died last year. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

“I couldn’t watch my son die. You don’t expect for that to happen.”

Tony Allen, 74, saw his middle child deteriorate through heroin addiction for more than a decade.

And this week the family are bracing themselves for his 40th birthday - and the first anniversary of his death.

It took 11 days after he was found unconscious on the floor of a known drug user’s flat on July 31 last year before John Allen, known as Sid to family and friends, died in hospital.

He had been left on the floor of the flat on Gentry Place for more than six hours before an ambulance was called, having injected heroin.

And today his family, who supported him through his addiction, are issuing a warning to others embroiled in the world of heroin in Norwich.

It comes as figures revealed yesterday show the city has one of the highest rates of drug-related deaths in the country.

As a boy, Sid Allen had signed up to Broadside Boxing Club with his older brother, Chick, winning regional championships and earning himself the lifelong nickname Sid Vicious.

But when he stopped boxing, the “lovable rogue” and “joker of the family” from West Earlham was introduced to heroin.

“There must be five or six of his mates round this area who have died the same way - through drugs,” said Mr Allen.

“He would always say to me - ‘what did you used to do when you were my age?’ I said I would be down the pub with the boys. He said to me this day and age this is what it’s all about - drugs.”

Sid ended up living with his parents, in a bedroom where a memorial has now been lovingly crafted. It includes a carved bar of soap one of his friends traded for a meal ticket in prison, as he couldn’t attend the funeral.

He was a “troubled” man, his family said, who “didn’t realise how much love there was around him”.

He leaves behind three sons, Jordan, 21, Taylor, 17, and Aiden, 16.

After 10 years of heroin use, and a suicide attempt, Sid did seek help. In 2015 he was admitted to the Priory hospital in Darlington, and got clean.

Then he “became a completely different Sid”, younger brother Lee said.

“When Sid was on heroin he was arrogant, horrible and aggressive,” he added.

“But that is the only life he knew. He wanted to get clean and be part of the family. We did all try to help him, and once he got clean he realised what he had been missing all these years.”

Mr Allen added: “He cleaned himself up for us. He tried to prove to us he could live in the real world, and he said he could do it.”

But eventually Sid relapsed, suffering three overdoses in 2017. He never told his family, who learned at his inquest last week. His death came as a huge blow.

“This has destroyed us,” said aunt Willa Gillick. “We are extraordinarily close as a family and everyone loved him. Sometimes when they have gone too far down the road they won’t listen.”

Life in the family home was “very difficult” until Sid got clean in 2016.

“When he got right it was brilliant, said Mr Allen. “The whole family was together again. We never gave up on him. I used to scream and shout at him, but when he got clean he was fine. I couldn’t ask for a better boy. That was our son back again.”

He added: “To be honest and truthful I think he couldn’t adapt to our way of life. He had so many years in a different world he just couldn’t adapt to it.

“It is an illness.”

Despite the constant support of his family, Sid couldn’t break his old social circle.

“The only friends he really had were drug addicts,” said sister in law Kerry Allen. “He never really got out of that circle. We had tried to help him for years but he wasn’t ready.

“The trouble is it takes so much time. It was too late.”

Mr Allen said: “When I sit here now I think, did I do right or did I do wrong?

“He would say ‘give me a tenner’. If I hadn’t have given it to him what would he have done? I didn’t want to see him suffer. Now I think, did I do right?

“We can’t change nothing now. Nothing is going to bring him back, but we are so full of anger.

“Norwich is now rife with drug dealers from London because we are an easy touch. If there wasn’t the drug user there would be no drug baron. But they all go into prison and get clean, then come back out and do exactly the same thing again.”

He added: “If you have children try to spend some time with them and see if they are changing their ways, which I didn’t.

“We have some fantastic memories and they can’t take that away from us.”

Drug-related deaths

The rate at which people are dying in Norwich from drug misuse is continuing to climb, according to the latest figures.

Of the 135 people who died as a result of drug misuse in Norfolk between 2015 and 2017, 45 were in Norwich, data from the Office for National Statistics, released yesterday, reveal.

It means the city continues to see one of the highest rates of deaths from illegal drugs in the country.

At a rate of 12 deaths in every million, the only towns nationwide with a higher rate are Swansea, Port Talbot and Hartlepool.

It comes as deaths involving heroin and morphine nationally decreased by 4pc last year to 1,164, the first decline since 2012.

From 2014 to 2016 there were 36 drug-related deaths in Norwich, the highest number since 2009. But the number is rising.

Change, Grow, Live have been responsible for drug and alcohol treatment in Norfolk since April.

Director Vicki Markiewicz has said: “We’re going to operate much more of a community delivery model which will allow people to access services outside of the urban areas.”

And she vowed to tackle drug-related deaths in the county.

“We know from commissioners and the statistics out there that the drug-related death numbers really need to come down in Norfolk,” she said.

Karen Tyrell, executive director of alcohol and drug charity Addaction, said: “The truth is that most drug-related deaths are preventable.

“People who use opioids often have cumulative physical and mental health problems.

“Most of them have had very difficult, often traumatic lives and we’re letting them down if we don’t give them the best care that we can.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to become dependent on drugs.

“Everyone deserves help, and we know that every person can recover with the right support.”

Since November 2016, Norfolk Police have been targeting so-called ‘county lines’ drug dealing under the banner of Operation Gravity. More than 600 arrests have been made and thousands of pounds of cash, drugs and weapons seized.

Anyone with concerns about drug dealing in their area should call police on 101.

Contact Change, Grow, Live for advice and support on 01603 514096.

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