"Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid?" by Elizabeth Burton-Phillips
Book review by Elsa Browne, SMMGP
The world – and indeed drug treatment – was a different place in 2007 when Elizabeth Burton-Phillips first published her book with its innocuous title, which has recently been reprinted with an update. Although there were family support agencies and networks back then, the focus of treatment was on the person who used drugs in the first instance (perhaps not unsurprisingly) and on the impact on those near and dear to them – not so much.
Elizabeth’s book is hard to read but it is not a misery memoir, it is written in a matter-of-fact way. It was a brave move ten years ago for a “pillar-of-the-community” middle-class teacher from the Counties to write a book that told of “what drugs did to my family”, meeting the stigma she must have faced as a respectable member of her community, head-on.
Chronicles written by people who use(d) drugs abound, but not many people have written in quite so much detail of what it is like to experience addiction as the mother of adult children with severe problems caused by addiction. The book describes worlds that collided – Elizabeth’s of complete ignorance about drugs, and the every-day lives of her twin sons, both dependent heroin users. Her utter powerlessness as she casts about trying to gain some understanding of what was going on, and crucially, where to find support for herself and other members of her family, makes for difficult reading. Sadly, the 2007 book ended with the account of the tragic death of her son Nick.
Fast forward to now and a remarkable story of recovery and progress underpins the update of the book. Nick’s life finds relevance in the establishment of the Nick Mills Foundation, his twin brother Simon has given up drugs, and in 2006 Elizabeth establishes a successful charity (DrugFam) to raise awareness of the impact that a family member’s problematic drug use has on those close to them and, to help people who – just as she once was – are desperate for answers.
The book has been translated into 5 languages and adapted into a Theatre in Education play which is performed in prisons and in the community with great educational value. Elizabeth was the recipient of an MBE in the 2017 Queen’s Honours List, the charity itself has won awards for its work.
But importantly, aside from these lofty achievements, DrugFam has not lost sight of its core aim to help family members and remarkably in this straitened funding times, the charity offers a telephone helpline that is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In May 2017 Westminster Abbey was packed for an unusual service hosted by DrugFam entitled “Lives Worth Talking About” - held in honour of people who have died from drug use. It is also a salutary reminder that all the lives of those affected by someone’s addiction to drugs, are worth talking about.
Additional comment by GP Dr Stephen Willott:
“I remember reading this terrific and powerful memoir 10 years ago and was delighted to see the new edition, telling a story of hope through tragedy that could happen to any family.
From a GP perspective, it is a valuable reminder of recognising the signs of someone’s addiction and the importance of asking for help earlier rather than later – both for the family and the person using drugs problematically - such as discussing concerns with a GP (even if not a specialist in addiction, GPs are likely to be equipped to help or at least point in the right direction)”.
Contact DrugFam via email on firstname.lastname@example.org DrugFam National helpline number 0300 888 3853