Britain's Drugs Crisis: The Addict: Wild years of heroin, theft and self-destruction

'I RECKON I lost two years on diconal. I simply can't remember those times. Then there was the 18 months when we spent pounds 75,000 on heroin. That was crazy. I feel bad about that.'

And then there was the time that Anne's partner, the father of three of her four children, overdosed on heroin and died.

It had been a wild few years, wilder than Anne cares to think about. She is now 35 and lives with her children in a rented house in Manchester, their 13th home in eight years, but she is still an addict and always will be.

Today, she exists on methadone, the heroin substitute, but it used to be the real thing, with cocaine, amphetamines and diconal, an opium-based painkiller used in the treatment of terminally-ill cancer patients.

'The patients would get about four a day,' she said. 'At one stage, we were sharing up to 60 - him 45, me about 15.'

Anne met Jim, her former partner, when she was 22. She knows she should not have become involved. She was a senior specialist nurse and knew the dangers; but that was what attracted her to him.

He had been a registered opiate addict since the age of 14 so it was perhaps his vulnerability, the sense that she could nurse him out of it, that attracted her. But it was also the glamour.

'Some kids would put their hand up at school and say 'Sir, can I go to the toilet?' Jim told me he used to put up his hand and say 'Sir, can I go for a fix?' I thought I could pull him up and out of it but he dragged me down.'

When they met, Anne had her own home but they decided to buy a new place, a four-bedroomed detached house in up-market Pendle, Lancashire. His father had just retired, giving each of his children pounds 30,000 to set them up.

'We bought the house but not with the money Jim's father gave us,' Anne said. 'For that, we got a second mortgage. We spent the pounds 30,000 on drugs. I had a good job, earning about pounds 20,000, and for about two years almost all of that went on drugs. I tried it out of curiosity at first, to see what he was getting from it, and I thought I could handle it - everyone thinks they can - but I had a habit of my own after about nine months.

'I used to think how amazing it was that no one in work noticed. As a nurse, I knew where to inject so it wouldn't show and where it would cause the least damage.'

But the damage was being caused in other ways. Anne left her job when she felt she could no longer disguise her habit and, when the money ran out, Jim became involved in chequebook fraud, theft and burglary.

'There was one time when he was chased from a store by security guards and he had one of the kids with him who was only a baby,' Anne said. 'Then he started importing coke and amphetamines from Amsterdam and once or twice he upset some people over here - he could be quite unscrupulous.

'I kept most of it away from the children but there were some things you couldn't hide. Like the time some men came looking for him with guns. They'd have killed him if they'd found him.'

Finally, at the height of their addiction, Jim was sent to prison for two years. Anne tried to end the relationship and left the house - which was repossessed later - and, over the next few years, attempted to kick her habit. She got help from organisations like Mainline, a charity run by users for users, but there were times when she lived with her children in shelters for the homeless.

Two years ago, Jim died from a heroin overdose, but Anne gives the impression that she was almost expecting it. 'He was a long time on drugs. I was on them for 12 years and I'm still on methadone - they have to give me a lot more than most people,' she said.

'I thank God for the methadone programme because I wouldn't be able to cope otherwise. It stops you going cold turkey and lets you get on with your life. But I do have a lot of regrets, and I feel very sad. I wonder where it all went and I can see no future, and I often say to myself 'Why me?' '

(Photograph omitted)

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