Deadly but legal drugs are taking hold on the Fylde coast, a Gazette investigation has revealed.
In the first part of a new series, STEF HALL speaks to Anthony, a businessman who is recovering from an addiction to legal highs that saw him throw his 83-year-old mum out of her home at 2am
When Anthony looks back at his experiences with legal highs, his strongest emotion is shame.
Anthony, 47, who was living in Blackpool when he first experimented with legal highs, is eight weeks into his recovery from an addiction to legal highs that gripped him for five months of his life.
The cost of his penchant for legal highs was high both personally and financially – spiralling into a £90 a day habit in less than four months.
At its peak Anthony, who used to earn £25,000 a year working for an engineering firm in Manchester, was smoking the substances NINE times a day.
Already suffering from a hernia, he ended up in hospital at least 20 times from the effects of legal highs and the impact on his stomach.
He explains: “I was going through a challenging time in my life. I had been in recovery from taking other substances, and had had a lifelong problem with alcohol. I tried various methods to control this, which led to me taking substances to try to cope.
“Four years ago while living in Blackpool, I was smoking cannabis but had ran out of it. Someone recommended Gogaine, which mimics cocaine.
“It triggered a psychotic episode. I thought there was monsters down the stairs. I thought all the seagulls were policemen. I ran out of the house I was in and ran until I reached Bispham.
“But I was able to put it down. I was not addicted at that stage.”
This year Anthony had to move into his mum’s home to care for her when she became poorly. He says: “I had been in recovery for quite some time. I was caring for my mum and was often awake for three days at a time. She is 83 and had pneumonia.Afterwards I was unable to sleep. I just thought if I smoked it once it would help me relax.
“This time round I thought it would be much the same, and that it would not be addictive. I bought some from a shop in Barrow.”
But its effects were completely different. Anthony was knocked unconscious by the hit, a synthetic cannabinoid known as Spice, but as soon as he came round, he wanted more.
He adds: “I couldn’t put it down. It was knocking me out for an hour or two at a time. As soon as I woke up I wanted more. I took all different ones. I would wake up with the powder all over me.
“On cannabis I probably spent around £10 a day, but did not smoke it every day.
“Yet with this – a powder called Red X being the main one – I ended up spending £90 a day.
“I blew £4,500 I had saved up for my children on them. I spent my carer’s allowance and other benefits on it. I didn’t eat. I lost two and a half stone because it affected my stomach – I vomited frequently.I also had to be treated for bronchitis.”
Despite this, the urge to smoke was too strong to resist. The turning point only came when during an incident Anthony can only describe as “shameful”.
Ten weeks ago, suffering from paranoia triggered by his addiction, he believed his 83-year-old mum, who had just recovered from pneumonia, was involved in a “conspiracy against him”.
He recalls: “I had never argued with my mum but I just started rowing with her. The highs were messing with my mental health.
“I felt the world was against me, and felt sorry for myself. I was paranoid people were looking at me. I became very self centred.
“I threw my mum out of her own house at 2.15am. This lady who has been so wonderful to me throughout my life, I just threw her out.
“Luckily she could still drive and went to my sister in law’s.The next morning when I woke up I knew things had to change. I have never picked a legal high up again since.
“I will never let anything make me treat my own mum like that again.
“I went around to see my mum straight away and was upfront with her, she has been very supportive.
“It has taken a long time to get the effects out of my system, it messed with my sleeping pattern.
“The anxiety and nerves lasted far longer.”
Anthony has now turned his life around. He is running his own business and has set up an online support forum for people struggling with addictions to legal highs.
Alarmingly, in just two months 500 people from across the UK – almost a fifth of them from Lancashire – have joined it. It comes as the Government debates the introduction of laws to make psychoactive substances illegal. He says: “It shows the scale of how big this problem is. It’s a hidden problem in one way. These are unregulated untested products being openly sold to people.
“I would say they are as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than illicit drugs.
“One man I know in Lancashire is just 28 and has a colostomy bag because of the effects legal highs caused.
“People think they will take instead of the ‘hard stuff’ - but it is the ‘hard stuff.’”
If you are affected by this story you can seek advice from:
• The Hub on 01253 476010
• Horizons on 01253 752100