The lows of the highs: Tackling drug supply in south Wales
No drug use is minor, everyone starts somewhere, they build their drug use, they build their tolerance and the impact on their life gets greater. We need to stop it early.
- South Wales Police drugs lead, Detective Superintendent Gareth Morgan.
“If people don’t know what they’re taking it can be a massive risk.”
- Joint Scientific Investigation Unit.
Read Steve's story
I joined the army at 16. My mother was bringing up her children on her own, so I decided to join the army to get some money to send home to my mum.
During one of my last tours of duty in Northern Ireland, while I was on patrol, I was bundled into a car and basically smuggled off the street. I wasn’t told what was going on but was flown back home and less than four hours after being on patrol I was with my son. We were worried he was dying – he had septicaemia. It was so traumatic. Thankfully he survived but it became one of my turning points.
And then someone offered me speed, and that was it. Every day I took some. Within a short period of time, I had left the army and my wife had left me. I didn’t know how to cope.
I remember looking down on those taking crack cocaine – but then I slipped down myself, as well.
I remember one Christmas Eve. I was in a room with a mattress in the corner. I couldn’t afford electricity so I had a candle and a little box of Quality Street. Nobody else wanted to be with me. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something here’. It wasn’t me, it’s not what I wanted – I had to change.
I decided to move from Swansea to London, and when I was there I signed up to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. I made a real effort – even to the extent that if I had no money and there was a meeting 15 miles away, I would walk there. I did start to make some progress. I started to cross the bridge. I got to eight months clean, a year clean, and then moved back to Swansea. Since then I have managed to work my way up the career ladder to where I am today, with management responsibility within my industry.
I had never been brought up around drugs and I didn’t touch them until I was in my 20s. From the minute I first did drugs until the minute I stopped, I knew that what I was doing was wrong. It didn’t fit in with my own ‘narrative’. I went so low that at one point I got someone to break my arm just so that I could put in a personal injury claim. The pain at the time didn’t bother me – I just wanted money.
Of course, it didn’t work. That’s not how these things work. It’s the insanity of substance misuse, the world of crime and violence that I was in. I knew I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. I realised I had to mend a lot of damage and my relationships, but I knew I would do it one day – I just didn’t know when. But I’ve been off drugs for 18 years now.
It is a sad, isolated, dangerous world. I went to so many dark places. But I’ve gone from that isolation back to my family, going on holiday, spending time with the kids. I feel as if I have a bank – not of money but of things I care about. I have a lot that is invested in my recovery. I have responsibilities, whereas before I wouldn’t even have been able to lead myself along the garden path.
My message to anyone else going through what I’ve been through is relatively simple: there’s always a solution, and it’s about how you get there. You can’t go so far down that there’s no way back. Some situations may be harder than others, but there’s always a way back.
Gravitate around those people who can support you, those protective figures in your life. It’s all about hope, and not giving up.
- Steve (not his real name), in his 50s, from South Wales
The Lows of The Highs - The facts
The impact of drugs affects us all, whether a drug user or not.
But how much do you know about drugs, the dangers and the breadth of work being done by us and our partners to tackle the problem?
In 2020/21 the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales allocated over £11.2 million of funding; 41% of this total went to mental health and substance misuse initiatives.
Partnership working is key; we work with partner agencies to reduce harm to drug users via treatment and support services, but also to minimise the risk of further substance misuse-relate offending, and the associated risk to the wider community. One such project, Dyfodol, is jointly commissioned by the Police and Crime Commissioner and HMPPS.
During 2020-2021, 13,533 contacts were made with Dyfodol in our police custody suites alone. Of those contacts, 8,627 people voluntarily chose to engage with the service.
You can never really be sure what is in the drugs you are taking, or the effects they will have on your body. But did you know you can get your drugs tested by harm reduction project WEDINOS?
Only 45% of pills bought as Diazepam / Valium actually contained Diazepam / Valium when tested by WEDINOS in 2020/21.
Less than half bought as Xanax contained Xanax
In 2020, 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in England and Wales; 3.8% higher than the number of deaths registered in 2019 (figures obtained by ONS).
Two-thirds of those drug poisoning deaths were related to drug misuse.
Approximately half of all drug poisoning deaths registered in 2020 involved an opiate (49.6%; 2,263 deaths); 777 deaths involved cocaine, which is 9.7% more than 2019, and more than five times the amount recorded a decade ago (144 deaths in 2010).
Cocaine deaths rose for the ninth consecutive year in 2020, with 777 deaths involving cocaine registered. Almost 80% of those deaths were males.
Cocaine is a Class A drug. The penalty for possessing cocaine can be up to seven years’ imprisonment and/ or an unlimited fine. The maximum prison term for supplying cocaine is life.
Psychoactive substances are often wrongly referred to as legal highs. A change in the law in 2016 means such substances are anything but legal. The law now makes it an offence to produce or supply any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The offence carries a maximum seven years’ sentence.
Our dedicated #OpSceptreTeam alone has taken £2.5m+ worth of drugs off the streets of south Wales since April 2021. This is an ongoing priority. Last year the same team seized £4.47m worth of drugs.
Help and support is available
Dan 24/7 is a free and confidential drugs helpline. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Freephone 0808 808 2234 or text DAN to 81066.