A recovering heroin addict who turned to drugs at the tender age of 12 has spoken for the first time of the depths he sank to as he struggled to feed his addiction.
Leeds man Daniel McGann, who is now clean after a third stint in jail for burglary, stole from his own family and has spent years of his adult life in prison after falling into a spiral of despair.
Now, after an investigation by The Yorkshire Evening Post last month revealed a huge spike of drug-related deaths in the region, he has come forward in the hope that his story will save lives.
“People are suffering,” he said. “Two of my friends have died in the past couple of years. Another committed suicide. It’s scary. You don’t see it, but I know it’s happening.
“I’ve heard stories of brothers finding brothers collapsed dead in a doorway.
“People are already balancing on a knife edge. With cuts, how bad is it going to get?”
Daniel, now 39, started smoking cannabis at school at the age of 12. By 14, he was taking LSD, acid, ecstasy. By the age of 17, he was taking heroin.
“By the time I left school at 16, it was my life,” the Stanningley man said. “The drugs were there. Someone was always doing something.”
He was introduced to heroin by a colleague at his workplace where he was an apprentice blind maker.
“I was a week out of school,” he said. “I didn’t have any qualifications, I was quite pleased to get a job. I thought I was a grown up.”
But within a few months, he had lost his job.
“That’s when I started using nearly every day,” he said. “I was addicted. I couldn’t get back into work. Everything went downhill.
“Heroin was more important to me than anything. How to get heroin, how to get money. I was stealing from my family. I got kicked out. I starting shoplifting. Going to supermarkets, stealing aftershave, computer games. I got caught. I wasn’t very good.
“So I started taking more risks. I started going into offices, creeping around. Taking wallets, laptops, mobile phones, anything I could find. I cared, but I couldn’t stop it. I knew I was going to need it. I was constantly trying to fend off the bad feeling.”
The impact on his family, he said was devastating. His dad threw him out, and their relationship became toxic.
“I was a total nightmare,” he said. “I was injecting. My arms were lumps, there were bumps everywhere from abscesses. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was like an animal.
“Those years were the worst time. I was in and out of prison. Three times, for burglary and commercial burglary. I was in for 14 months altogether.
“But prison saved me. I didn’t use in jail. I almost welcomed prison. Being outside, I’d have warrants out for my arrest. I knew the police were going to catch me. Prison saved my life.”
He was in jail in 2002 when his dad passed away. It was the shame of having to attend his own father’s funeral on day release from prison that forced him to re-evaluate his life.
“It’s hard to look back on it,” he said. “I’ve been in recovery since 2004. I couldn’t do it any more after my dad died. I was sick of it. I just wanted out.”
With the help of his mum, who he now lives with, and medication to curb his cravings, he managed. But in the years since, he has struggled to integrate back into society.
“I’ve not progressed in life,” he said. “I’m living with my mum. I’m not in work. I would like to be - I’m doing courses. But once you’ve got that criminal record on your CV, it’s really difficult.
“There’s a stigma. People are prejudiced. I have a criminal record.”
With these challenges, he says, it is too easy for people to fall back into the desperate spiral of addiction. And, with more potent drugs on the streets than ever before, into an inescapable cycle which too often ends in death.
“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “There’s too much red tape surrounding the system. There is help for people, but not enough. It is scary. For every step forward, you take two steps back.”
Drugs deaths in Leeds are at the highest level in Yorkshire, figures revealed in the YEP in September show, as the purity of the most commonly used drugs increases.
Government statistics show there were 120 deaths from drug poisonings in Leeds from 2013 to 2015, a rate of nearly one a week.
Experts have cited an increase in the purity of drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Nationwide, there were 3,674 drug poisoning deaths registered in England and Wales in 2015, the highest since records began in 1993.
The figures for Yorkshire show a big difference between towns and cities, with the second highest number of deaths registered being in Sheffield (101). The lowest numbers of registered deaths were in Richmondshire (one) and Craven (three).
The report has found that nationwide, deaths involving heroin or morphine doubled in three years to 1,201 in 2015.
There were 320 deaths involving cocaine, up from 247 in the previous year, while deaths linked to new psychoactive substances - formerly known as legal highs’ - have increased sharply, with 114 registered last year.