‘It can happen to anyone’: City’s drug death rate among highest in country
- Credit: Astrid Callomon
Jennie Callomon didn’t know when or how her son would lose his life, but she knew it was likely.
It was a thought she carried in the back of her head even when Dylan, 32, looked like he was on top of his addictions, when life looked promising again.
Alongside that thought was another. She couldn’t save him.
A former cruise ship performer and dancer who loved to swim, draw and sing, Dylan Callomon lived in and around Norwich for almost a decade in various flats and hostels, in between spent time living in tents and sleeping rough.
The last time his family saw him was at a farewell dinner party thrown at the family home near Halesworth in Suffolk, days before his sister Astrid left for six-month hiking expedition in the USA.
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Less than a month later, at 10pm on May 16 last year, two police officers knocked on Mrs Callomon’s front door in Halesworth to tell her Dylan had been found dead in his flat on Watling Road in Heartsease.
Astrid was thousands of miles away and three weeks into her six-month hike.
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“When the messages came, I could only read the first few lines. I knew instantly what had happened.
“It was horrific, being so far away, but ultimately I knew I couldn’t go home. My parents wanted me to stay, and Dylan would have wanted that too.
She added: “I think people have a perception of with a drug addict is, and where they’ve come from. There’s this assumption that they come from broken homes or unloving families.
“But that doesn’t really match with the fact that addiction is a disease. It can happen to anybody.”
Aged 32, 130 words from an inquest reported in this newspaper marked his death. But there was much more to Dylan’s life than this.
His death was one of 22 recorded as drug misuse or drug poisoning in the city in 2019. It meant Norwich had the third highest death rate for drug poisonings in the country. The figures include legal and illegal drugs.
Despite a small drop in deaths for the first time in seven years, new figures show 71 people died from drug poisoning (legal drugs) between 2017-2019, giving Norwich a rate of 18.2 per 100,000. Only Blackpool and Middlesbrough have a higher rate.
The city fares little better in drug misuse deaths (illegal drugs and misuse of legal drugs), with 44 recorded in the same period, and a rate of 11.4 per 100,000 leaving Norwich with the seventh highest rate in the country, above far larger cities like Newcastle and Liverpool.
Another person behind the stark numbers was 19-year-old Danny Jeffrey. His mum Claire said at his inquest in March that her son “always had a smile on his face” and was a “wonderful brother” to his siblings.
Police found his body on the floor of his flat in Lower Clarence Street on February 3 last year. Emergency services were called but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
He had died from the combined effects of heroin, alcohol and cocaine.
Across Norfolk, the drug mortality rate has risen by 25pc in the last six years, from 181 to 225 deaths.
Great Yarmouth saw 46 deaths from drug poisoning and misuse between 2017-19, with rates of 9.6 and 7.3 respectively.
In King’s Lynn, 76 people lost their lives, and the drug poisoning death rates for the same period was 11.7. The rate for drug misuse was 8 per 100,000.
Charity Change Grow Live, which provides rehab services in Norfolk, has previously said deprivation and an ageing generation of drug users were behind the rise in deaths from drugs such as heroin.
But the UK Addiction Treatment group (UKAT) has warned the numbers could be even higher next year as people turn to drugs as a coping mechanism during the pandemic and has urged councils to invest more in drug and alcohol treatment services.
“We must remember that these aren’t just numbers; they’re someone’s mother, father, child or friend who has lost their lives to drugs and we can’t stress enough the value of investing in the treatment of addiction,” said UKAT group treatment lead Nuno Albuquerque.
Mrs Callomon has called for more needed to be done to raise awareness of the nature of addiction.
“For a long time, we thought, as a family, we could be Dylan’s saviours. But it really wasn’t to be.
“We thought in the last few years he was on the up. We had learned a lot about addicts and why they are addicts. It had dawned on us that we couldn’t save him.”
•‘Learn about this problem’
Dylan’s family urged others facing similar challenges to admit they needed help.
“I would say to any family in this situation to go to the al-anon meetings for families and friends of addicts, and learn about this problem,” said Mrs Callomon.
“You can’t control it and you can’t cure it. You could enable them by giving them money or even by buying them groceries.
“That’s a hard thing for people to understand because it seems really unkind. But he had to find the solution and had to want to get better.
“Dylan used to wonder why it took him so long to get help, but we’re all different people. There needs to be more public awareness of addiction. “Dylan was always in ‘rescue mode’,” said Mrs Callomon. “He was a ferociously clever chap and was just hilariously funny.
“That was the Dylan we knew.
“People think addicts are all one type of person. But they aren’t. When the police came to the house, they seemed shocked that he didn’t grow up in some kind of hovel.”
•If you need help with drug or alcohol addiction contact the Change, Grow, Live charity at www.changegrowlive.org. Support can also be found at the Matthew Project at www.matthewproject.org
•Any families or friends of addicts who need support can find it through the Al-anon website.
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