Drugs are rife, so why do we bury our heads?


Teenagers are growing ever more dependent on drugs - and the community is turning a blind eye.

That's the claim of former addict James Weston, 33, who first experimented at 17 while in Israel with a Jewish youth movement.

Within a year, he was addicted, having regularly smoked marijuana with Jewish friends at social gatherings.

Now, having fought a decade-long dependency, he has published an online account of his time in a rehab clinic in the hope that he can bring the subject out into the open.

"I never hear anyone talking about it," he said. "We're failing each other because we're too scared to tell our dirty little secrets. It's positive to focus as a community on helping people get better. You can't wait for people to say they need help: you need to show them how to get it. My hope is that either a parent will read and recognise the symptoms, or a young person will see themselves in it and ask for help."

Mr Weston said his drug use took a turn for the worse after he returned to Israel at 18 as a youth group leader. One night in Jerusalem, he accepted a drink of Diet Coke and methodone by the hostel manager. He collapsed and awoke in hospital, after his heart had stopped for several minutes.

"The organisation rang my parents to say I was doing hardcore drugs and neglected to admit everyone was smoking weed - teenagers and leaders. They even had the Jerusalem Post report that it had happened to an American student."

His parents, Adrienne, 57, and Jeff, 60, struggled for years to help him - and keep it secret.

His mother said: "No one knew what was going on. People don't like admitting they have problems. We were afraid of being judged. We found there were very few Jewish groups who would talk about it or acknowledge it."

There is only one Jewish charity dedicated to abusers. Drugsline relaunched last year as a pilot programme under the auspices of Norwood, after closing through lack of funding.

The charity is currently waiting to hear if it will be recognised as a permanent part of Norwood. It gives advice to 14 Jewish schools and youth programmes, including King Solomon High School in Ilford and Hasmonean High School, offering drop-in services and hosting awareness evenings.

Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, its chief consultant, says awareness needs to increase. He sees examples "day after day and week after week".

He added: "There is still a lot of ignorance. Addiction affects the whole family and this is where stigma comes in. People are afraid to acknowledge it. It is often easier to simply ignore it."

Mr Weston said: "The community wants to be perfect. But in my opinion, it sometimes misunderstands that things cannot be perfect without highlighting our imperfections. That's why I'm now speaking out."

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