It is a parent’s worst nightmare – finding a box stuffed with heroin paraphernalia in your child’s bedroom.
That is what happened to South Yorkshire mum Christine Hatton, who watched helplessly as her beloved son Sam slipped into a tragic cycle of drug-taking from which he would never escape.
Determined to gain as much knowledge as she could about drugs, Christine has worked for the substance misuse unit at Kendray Hospital in Barnsley since it opened in 1998.
The dedicated staff in the unit treated Sam about 10 times over the years – but is now set to close, reducing support for Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster addicts desperate to get clean.
Christine, aged 61, says: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting,
“There are lots of people in the area reliant on methadone. Surely at some point they will want to detox, and the alcohol problem is getting worse and worse. It’s a massive problem.”
Christine who lives in Brierley, Barnsley, with lorry driver husband Les, also 61, first knew Sam was taking drugs when she got a call from the police when he was 14 after he was caught taking cannabis.
She says: “I didn’t think it was that serious at the time. I was quite naive. I thought it was a phase he was going through and he would grow out of it.”
In 1993 when Sam was 15 and his sister, Julie was 18, Christine began her nursing training.
She qualified as a staff nurse in 1996 and began her career in the mental health rehab ward at the former Lodge Moor Hospital in Sheffield.
By then, Christine had found out Sam was using heroin and making drug deliveries to feed his addiction.
She says: “One day the phone rang and it was someone shouting and swearing down the phone, wanting to know where Sam was as he was supposed to be fetching him a bag.
“I went upstairs, searched his bedroom and found all the paraphernalia. I didn’t find any drugs but there were spoons and methadone bottles.
“That’s when I confronted him about it. I let rip at him.”
The next day, Christine booked Sam in for a detox.
She says: “I thought we’d nipped it in the bud, but about 15 to 20 detoxes later you start to lose hope.”
Items such as jewellery, cameras and cash started to go missing from the family home and Christine eventually had to accept Sam was stealing from them to pay for heroin.
She and Les paid for Sam to go to London to get away from his friends, and later funded trips to Tenerife and Israel.
But nothing worked and as soon as he came home he would slip back into his old ways.
When Christine heard the substance misuse unit was opening at Kendray Hospital in 1998, she applied straightaway.
“I got really interested in substance misuse because I wanted to learn as much as possible,” she says. “I thought the more knowledge I had, the more I would be able to help Sam. If only it was that simple.”
Sam used the unit himself about 10 times.
On her days off, Sam often asked his mum to detox him at home.
“It was what you would imagine a heroin detox to be,” she says. “He would literally climb the walls and beg for drugs. It was an awful thing to see.
“He managed to get out of the house once and get some drugs. I made him get in the bath and while he was in there I searched his room, found the drugs and flushed them away.
“He went absolutely mental, screaming and crying.”
Christine and Les tried everything to help Sam - including throwing him out of the house.
Nothing worked and eventually Christine reached the stage where she had to take her handbag to bed with her to prevent the contents being stolen.
The final ray of hope came when Sam was accepted into rehab at Phoenix Futures in Sheffield.
Unfortunately, he had to come home after a fellow inpatient brought drugs onto the unit, but he was promised a space the following week.
“He was home a week and was due back on the Monday morning – but he died on the Saturday night,” Christine says.
“As soon as I opened the door when I came home from work, I knew there was something wrong.”
Les broke the toilet door down, but it was too late, Sam had overdosed.
Christine said the family try to remember Sam as the ‘caring and gentle’ lad he was.
“He would do anything for anyone and was particularly helpful to his grandparents, taking them shopping or to hospital appointments and decorating or doing little jobs for them,” she says.
“Sam had a great personality and a wicked sense of humour. There were certainly never any dull moments when he was around.
“Our lives are a lot emptier without him. We miss him dearly and will do for the rest of our lives.”
Sean Rayner, Barnsley and Wakefield business delivery units district director, said: “The NHS Trust is currently reviewing the future viability of the substance misuse inpatient unit at Kendray Hospital.
“ Historically the unit has received referrals of service users from all over Yorkshire, not just Barnsley.
“The changing nature of commissioning arrangements has resulted in a gradual reduction in demand for this type of service, and therefore a reduction in referrals of service users, as more services are offered in community settings.
“It is in this context the trust is reviewing the future viability of the unit, although no final decision has yet been made.
“Ways of working for staff and best use of buildings will be considered as part of ensuring a quality service to local people.”
After Sam’s death in November 2006, Christine turned to The Luke and Marcus Trust.
The charity was set up by two mums who lost their sons to heroin overdoses. It helps others by offering sympathy, support and understanding.
Christine says: “I don’t know how I would have got through everything without them. It’s been a lifesaver for me.
“When we first lost Sam I couldn’t imagine ever smiling again. There’s nothing that compares to the loss of a son or daughter.
“You don’t get over it but you learn to live with it.”