Pubdate: Sat, 19 May 2012
Source: Northern Weekly (Australia)
Copyright: 2012 Fairfax Media
Author: Liz Hannan


JUDY Smith knew nothing about heroin until it had her only child,
Daniel, in its grip.

She and her husband, Ray, had raised their son in a stable home and
sent him to a leading Catholic boys school in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

They were not blind to his bouts of low self-esteem and anxiety but
believed he was building the foundations for a happy, successful life.
A bachelor of fine arts from the University of New South Wales was

What they did not know was that their 22-year-old son had been using
heroin for three years, often in the family's home. Mrs Smith
discovered this when she found a backpack on his bed. "His behaviour
had become strange. I think deep down I probably knew what was going
on but I was in denial," she said. "You don't want to accept this
beautiful child, for whom you've done all the right things, is doing
this sort of thing."

In the backpack she found two brown paper bags, which contained cotton
wool and swabs, and a black plastic box filled with needles and
injecting equipment. "All I could think is 'Oh God, oh God'. My heart
started racing. That was the beginning of it."

In those first days, the Smiths tried reprimand and reason. "We were
a respectable, middle-class family," she said. "This couldn't be
happening to us."

But they realised - with the help of Family Drug Support - that it was
"naive" to think they could cure their son immediately. Their first
responsibility was to keep him safe. They put their faith in harm

"I said, 'If you do not have clean needles, you let me know and we
will get you clean needles'," Mrs Smith said.

Like many addicts, Daniel would buy drugs to last him for some time
but use it quickly. "My grief counsellor said to me, 'Would you
consider holding his drugs for him?' I said to her, 'I would do
anything, anything'. I did a spreadsheet to try and keep track of his
drugs. He had all the paraphernalia and he would disappear into the
bathroom after I had given him a bag. I would say, 'You have four
minutes. If you haven't called out that you are fine, I'm coming in'."

"It was surreal. I used to think I can't believe I am doing this. How
could I tell anybody that we are doing this?"

For six years, Mrs Smith watched her son fight his habit. He was not a
"junkie", she said - "how I hate that word" - but a gentle young
man with an addiction. He held jobs at a pharmaceutical company and
the ABC, she said, and was a valued employee. When her husband was
diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010, she "could not have
asked for a better, more supportive son".

Daniel Smith died on January 22 this year - alone in his car, outside
the home of a drug dealer at Blackheath. He was 28.

"Daniel's big problem was that he would always use alone. His close
friends weren't users. On the morning he died, I feel that if he had
had somewhere to go - like a safe room in a hospital or an injecting
centre - there would have been help for him," Mrs Smith said."He
battled so hard, he was so brave - and he was coming good. He just
needed more time."

Mrs Smith supports Family Drug Support, founded in 1997 by Tony
Trimingham whose son, Damien, died of a heroin overdose. "I want to
tell people: Your son or daughter or partner is not going to have a
chance unless you walk beside them. If you dig deep, you can do it,"
she said. 
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