I am witnessing the brutal and cruel torture of three women. They have never met yet each tells the same painful story and each can see no way out of their problems. If they fail to find a solution, and there is no guarantee they will, this continuing abuse will lead, slowly and inevitably, to their own destruction. They are victims brought low by circumstances beyond their control and they are imprisoned by a hard-wired human emotion; motherly love.
Each mother noticed a change in her son around the age of fifteen. The first manifestations were mood changes and behavioural problems. Poor school performance high-lighted an issue they were yet to understand. A visit from social workers had the sons assessed for mental health problems yet none was found. Support of a sort was provided and more flexible schooling offered. But it took some time to establish the real horror that their much-loved son had been, and was, using cannabis, and increasingly, other recreational drugs. Social services offered counselling and support as family relationships fractured under the strain. The mothers tried to understand, as the counsellors told them they should, and they hoped that their sons would return to them out of a fog of self-indulgent indifference.
But things only got worse. Men started calling to the door demanding money with malice insisting their sons’ drug debts be paid. Expensive play stations disappeared to be pawned and housekeeping money was stolen from purses. Their boys would spend days in bed refusing to communicate and nights out who knows where. And then, phone calls at 4 a.m., telling the mothers that their sons were at a well-known location, money was owed and there would be physically punishment unless she brings down £40. She always does.
A miraculous improvement four days before Christmas brought one family a ray of hope. Son said he was sorry for all the problems caused and now that détente had been established he would like a bike for Christmas. In fact he had seen one in the paper for sale which was ideal as he wanted to get fit again. The family phoned the vendor then drove to a house where the bike was bought for £400. It was a bargain the parents were told. Christmas was idyllic but a few days after there was a knock on the door and the son’s friend, accompanied by his father, claimed the bike had been stolen a few weeks before Christmas and he believed it was his and could prove it as his signature was scratched under the saddle.
While gently questioning the mother about this incident, it was distressingly heart-breaking to watch as tears welled up in her eyes and she slowly began to realise that the bike purchase was just another scam.
Another son, in court on a charge of car theft, was so stoned on “spice” a cannabis derivative, he was unable to stand upright. The solicitor decided he was too intoxicated to go before the judge and suggested the mother take him for something to eat. Distressed, and will little assistance, she was attempting to direct him out of the court house when the police cautioned her that if she assaulted her son again she would be arrested.
None of the statutory or the voluntary agencies provides much help; but they do try. As a reason or perhaps excuse for not providing help, the mothers are being told that cannabis is not addictive when the evidence is clear; each of these boys have developed strong compulsive behaviours associated with cannabis use.
Their sons are in constant contact with people who supply cannabis and other drugs with impunity and, these individuals, have the ability to force mothers to financially support their son’s drug habits threatening to burn their houses or shoot them if the police are involved.
The libertarians will say that this is why cannabis use should be legalised and they with cite selective evidence of social experiments in legalisation such as in Portugal. I would suggest they look after one of these boys for an afternoon and when they see the long-term effects of cannabis and its synthetic derivatives on the adolescent brain, they might form a different view.
Each of the mothers is in counselling and it is my hope they stay strong as they are the only thing that is keeping three young men from total perdition. I have no idea how many more of these mothers are out there. And if these mothers break, and some eventually will, the cost will be on us all.
Terry Maguire is a pharmacist in Belfast