As regular readers know, I have a neighbour, S, who has a drug problem. I'm calling it a problem because things like this happen. That's a problem. I don't consider telling you this to be a breach of confidentiality as she herself tells most people within thirty seconds of meeting them.
The thing is, S is a nice girl. I'm calling her a nice girl because of things like this. We have cups of tea and chats and occasionally go to the seafront for an ice cream together or something. I would go so far as to call her a friend, albeit not a friend I would lend £20.
S's habit and attendant mental health problems mean that she is classed as a disabled person by the benefits system and social services and as such she has help coming out of her ears - not just family and friends, but also plenty of money and more home-visiting social workers and community health workers and 24/7 helplines than you could shake a stick at. Then there's a plethora of voluntary and religious groups such as the Salvation Army offering her cooked meals, secondhand furnishings for her flat, company and friendship, and the salvation of her eternal soul. So the last thing she needs is me trying to "help" her, because really? Drop, meet ocean. Everyone she meets wants to "help" her.
But. She's my neighbour, she's a friend, and as such, I do worry about her sometimes. I want to make sure that I'm not saying stupid things or being counter-productive to her therapy. There's also been a couple of times when I've seen her and she's scared me - semi-conscious and white as a sheet, unable to open her eyes properly or speak in complete sentences. Is that what people usually look like when they've been using heroin, or is there a major problem? I don't so much want to know how to "help", as how to avert potential disaster and Not Cock Things Up. You understand where I'm coming from? It's sort of a case of, do I want to save her, get her back on her feet, look after her? No. But do I want to make her problems worse? No. Do I want her to die in front of me because I didn't know what to do or when to do it? Really not.
How would one find these things out? Well, I have the whole internet at my fingertips and I figured a good place to start would be NORCAS, the main drugs and alcohol charity in East Anglia. From the front page of their website (my emphasis):
"Our mission statement is 'To reduce the harm to individuals, and thereby to society at large, from the misuse of drugs and alcohol'. We are here to work with anyone experiencing problems with alcohol, drugs, tranquillisers or solvents, including families and carers."
Marvellous. I was a little disappointed that the website contained not much apart from a list of websites and the disclaimer "These websites may contain views which are not supported by NORCAS", but it did have contact details so I emailed asking for specific help. I outlined the situation and asked:
"I need to know at which point I should get worried or call for help, and who I should call; I need to know if I should be talking about it with her, or trying to keep conversations completely off it; I need to know how to make sure I'm not being counter-productive to [the rehab/therapy bunch]'s approach."
Today I finally got a reply.
"For your own information and to further support your friend, there are various organisations offering advice and information that can be found on the web and via telephone..."
So not you lot, then? And if I email them, will they just give me addresses for other people I can email? Talk about buck-passing. Your mission statement says you'll help, not just "signpost". So far you've given me no more help than Google.
"It would do no harm to encourage your friend to seek support from an agency such as NORCAS and if she is already doing so, supporting her in this. It may also be supportive for her to know that she can talk to you."
No. I don't want to be yet another counsellor. I want to know what tack I should take in order to not put my foot in it.
"If you are concerned about your friend at any time and believe that there is a need for medical intervention, I can only advise that you contact the ambulance service immediately."
Right. I'll also get the kettle on for Tom's colleagues so that they won't get too frustrated having been hauled out to tell me "this is what heroin users always look like, there's nothing wrong with her and nothing we can do, you are wasting our time."
Paul Allum of NORCAS, you are as much use as a chocolate teapot. I'm not sure why you get paid and I can only hope that the help your organisation offers the addicts themselves far exceeds the so-called help you've offered me.
Okay, so I'm not actually going to send that as a reply. But I'm tempted (and I kind of hope he googles himself and finds this). Any suggestions on a more polite response, or should I just leave it?
Oh, and a quick knitting update - I'm on the home stretch of the second sock and hope to have a finished pair within the week.