Patient or criminal? ‘I shoplift £200 a day in Camden to fund my heroin addiction’

'Tanya' lights her pipe

'Tanya' lights her pipe - Credit: Archant

Following interviews with Camden’s police, drug rehabilitation experts and the borough’s community safety councillor, the Ham&High spoke to one young Camden woman whose experience with drug addiction saw her targeted at a young age, failed by a rehab system, and left with a heroin and crack habit that inflicts crime on the community everyday.

Calling herself “Tanya”, her morning begins knowing she’ll need at least £200 to “survive”.

“I was 14 when I first took brown [heroin],” she says.

“It was just after my mum had died. She was my best friend and I went off the rails. My boyfriend at the time, who was almost 30, was an addict and introduced me to it.

“I was eventually arrested when I was in my late teens and sent to prison for a week.

“They put me on a Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) and it did actually help me get clean.

“But after I provided 10 clean tests it was like they’d fulfilled their quota and didn’t want to know anymore.

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“Drug addiction is a life-long struggle – it never completely goes away – and I don’t think they realised that.”

Clean at age 21, she had a child and was living what she described as a “happy life” without drugs.

But after getting reacquainted with old friends, and with no health worker left to speak to, she relapsed.

“I now wake up every day knowing I need £200 to survive,” she says. “I shoplift from five or six shops a day, and at night work as a clipper, pretending to be a prostitute in the West End and then stealing from men. All of it goes on drugs.

“I’m not strong enough to get clean at the moment. You need to be mentally strong to fight the addiction and I’m not ready yet.

“At one point I did ask a social worker if they’d put me in rehab but they said it was too expensive.”

Tanya’s efforts to fulfill her addiction inflict about £1,500 a week of theft on Camden’s businesses and residents.

Following successful trials in south London, Brighton and Darlington, some have called for the government to end this cycle of crime by providing medical grade heroin to long-term users.

A recent Home Office report found this form of treatment “can be effective in reducing illicit drug use and improving retention in treatment among people deeply entrenched in opiate dependency, for whom other forms of substitution treatment have been ineffective”.

Another report into the trials by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found it at times more cost-effective than prescribing methadone - a heroin substitute of choice for drug rehab programmes.

This was the case, the report went on, for those who “have not responded to standard treatments”, like methadone.

Tanya says she “won’t touch” methadone.

“It’s not the same and is just replacing one addiction for another in my view,” she says.

“But I can’t imagine I’ll be offered free brown by the government, so I’ll just have to keep shoplifting and clipping.”

Results of the trial in England saw the Department of Health issue a £5.5million tender in 2012 to expand the programme to a number of “micro-sites” across London.