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"They're not 'smack-heads' they're someone's bairn": Tragic heroin addict Lee Garrity's mum's heartache as 'decade' of kids wiped out by deadly drug; Alison Hill tells of ongoing torment as drugs continue to claim young lives on Tyneside.

Byline: Sophie Doughty

When heroin's deadly grip got hold of her precious son there was nothing she could do to save him.

Alison Hill watched her once loving happy boy, Lee Garrity, transform before her eyes when he became addicted to the killer drug after being offered it by a friend at the age of just 12.

For more than a decade heroin addiction took over his life, as his family battled to help him. And tragically Lee had been clean for seven months when he was killed by one final fatal fix, in 2013. He was just 28-years-old.

Alison had hoped that popular Lee's sudden death might stop other young people trying the drug, and encourage users to get help.

But she still endures the daily torment of seeing and hearing of other young people succumbing to the lethal substance that robbed her of her boy.

The Chronicle revealed yesterday how police arrested 34 suspected dealers inGatesheadafter suspected drugs deaths in the borough almost trebled in a year

And today Alison has told of the heartache she feels every time another young life is lost.

The 57-year-old, fromWalkergate, in Newcastle, said: "Since my son died six years ago it's just wiped a decade of kids out. Once you get on heroin something gets hold of you and it just won't let you go, and you are very very lucky if you get out alive."

Lee became hooked on heroin as a teenager after falling in with a group of friends that used the drug.

Mum-of-five Alison did everything she could to try and help him beat his addiction, and in the months before he died it looked as though Lee might finally be free.

After staying off heroin for seven months Lee was the healthiest he had been in years and was looking for a job.

But tragically one last relapse was all it took to end his life. And on February 21, 2013 Lee was found slumped on a staircase in a Walker tower block, surrounded by drugs paraphenalia.

An inquest heard a mix of heroin, alcohol and valium caused his death.

Gateshead drugs deaths: What happens now after suspected deadly dealers taken off the streets?

Lee's death sparked an outpouring of grief in the community where he grew-up and his family were flooded with cards and messages of support.

Sadly, the tragedy was not enough to make other young addicts kick their habits.

"Within a year of Lee dying three of his friends died," said Alison, who works as a cleaner.

"There's loads of people I know that are still dying from it, or who are still addicts. I hear about it al the time, and it's so hard."

Alison is now urging the public not to demonise the addicts, but the dealers that get them hooked in the first place.

"What really gets on my nerves is when someone dies and you hear people say things like; 'He was just a smack-head. That's somebody's child, that's somebody's bairn," she said. "It's a disease like any other.

"Everybody loved Lee, but when he was on heroin he was horrible. He stole from me, he hit me, but I still loved him because I knew what he was like when he wasn't on it. They are not in control of their senses when they are on it. All they need is their next fix. It's like a demon that possesses you and there's nothing you can do.

Today's other news stories

"I know lots of people who are decent people whose kids have ended up either dead or addicted to heroin. And they are lovely families. I know people who are doctors who are addicted to heroin. It happens in all walks of life.

"The addicts really are the victims. I know people will say they take it of their own accord, but somebody gave it to Lee when he was 12. He survived until he was 28.

"The drug dealers know the addicts they are selling to will die eventually, so they have got to bring new people in.

"If I knew a dealer I would phone the police and tell them he was a dealer. A lot of people I know are terrified of the backlash. And I can understand why people are frightened."

This week police stormed homes in Gateshead in a bid to stop those responsible for the area's shockingly high drugs death toll.

Early morning raids were carried out over four consecutive days as part of an operation code-named 'Salvator', launched after the number of people suspected to have died from taking heroin and crack cocaine in the borough rose from 12 in 2017 to 35 in 2018.

Supt Peter Bent, ofNorthumbria Police'sCentral Area Command, said: "The whole intention is to disrupt the supply of Class A drugs around Gateshead and I hope that will happen.

"The North East has a problem with drugs deaths.

"The UK is the worst country in Europe for drugs deaths and the North East is the worst area in the UK, Gateshead in particular.

"In 2017 there were 12 suspected drugs deaths and in 2018 there were 35, so they have nearly tripled. And so far, in the first three months, of this year it's on target to be the same as last year.

"It's mainly heroin and crack cocaine involved in the deaths.

"There's no good reason why the North East should be worse than other parts of the country, and we are determined to do something about that."

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Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Lee Garrity and mum Alison Hill

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Lee Garrity

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Supt Peter Bent of Northumbria Police

Credit: Northumbria Police

A drugs raid in Birtley, Gateshead
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 6, 2019
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