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  1. ITV Report

'I've been dead twice... Ten minutes later I wanted more heroin' - Ex-drug addicts on how they kicked their deadly habit

Les Chandler (left) and Billie Hands (right) spoke to ITV News about their experiences with drugs. Credit: Les Chandler/ Billie Hands/ ITV News
  • By ITV News producers Charlie Bayliss and Narbeh Minassian

"I have hit rock bottom and I've been dead twice. I don't know how long for, maybe for two minutes, but I've got a pacemaker because of it."

Former drug addict Les Chandler has come back from the brink and lived to tell the tale, but many other users haven't been as fortunate.

Now 62, Les has managed to turn his life around after being snared in the grips of addiction since he was just 13-years-old.

At his lowest point, Les overdosed on heroin and had to undergo emergency CPR to save his life.

Another time, he fell from a fourth floor balcony as he tried to scale up to his house after forgetting his house key.

"Ten minutes later all I could think about was 'I need some more drugs,'" he said.

Les Chandler, 62, twice died but was brought back to life. Credit: Les Chandler/ ITV News

Les is one of the lucky ones.

Figures released on Thursday showed that drug deaths in England and Wales are at their highest levels since records began 25 years ago.

Official figures revealed there were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning in 2018.

Les started taking sleeping pills at 13, before turning to Class A substances, including heroin and crack cocaine, just a year later.

By 14 I started injecting

– Les Chandler

Living around the West End of London, drugs were easy to come by. His habit grew to a stage where he was regularly overdosing and the drugs he took were not enough.

He said: "I can't pinpoint what led me to drugs, it was an uncomfortable upbringing in care and all that stuff.

"I had anger. It was a slow process from sedatives, dope, then injecting. At about 13 I started to take pills but by 14 I started injecting.

"I was hanging around older people that were doing it."

He added: "I was fostered so it was about identity for me, so I attached myself to addicts.

"As far as I know I was put into care about a month old and take out at around three and fostered."

Heroin filled the emptiness inside me

– Les Chandler

Drugs were not only a physical escape, but also proved to be an emotional way out for Les.

He funded his habit by working as a butcher, carpenter and a builder, but also used illegal means to obtain enough.

He was caught stealing and served three years in prison before being released in 1982.

"Heroin filled the emptiness inside me. It is so hard to describe how that felt. It gave me a false sense of security and confidence," Mr Chandler said.

After trying numerous times to get clean and entering six different rehab centres, something clicked for Mr Chandler five years ago.

"Something happened to me in my detox. I was shocked... I didn't realise the damage I had done to my body. I looked at myself and thought 'wow, I am old and damaged'. I just thought I am still here and not dead, I have to give this another go.

"I was at the right place at the right time. I looked back at my childhood and stopped blaming it. It's not an excuse. I know people who went through similar ordeals to me and they didn't pick up drugs."

Les sought help through Addaction, a charity which helps people through their addictions, and hasn't looked back since. Credit: Les Chandler/ ITV News

Les sought help through Addaction, a charity which helps people through their addictions, and hasn't looked back since.

He has enrolled on a university course in Weston-Super-Mare and is now five-years sober, helping others through similar ordeals.

His advice for addicts?

"Give yourself a chance by detoxing first. When you have those chemicals you are delusional," Les said.

"It's never too late."

  • 'It's easy to sell your body for a fix' Ex-addict on her journey to recovery
Billie Hands has battled with addiction for most of her adult life. Credit: Billie Hands/ ITV News

Billie Hands, 62, suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse during her childhood in South Africa.

While in her late teenage years, Billie took sleeping pills and barbiturates before turning to heroin when she moved to London in the late 1970s.

"Drugs filled a hole in my life. I didn't have confidence, I felt like I wasn't good enough. When I first took heroin, it made everything so warm and comfy, and I felt like I could be the life of the party," she said.

"It worked for a while, but the hole gets bigger and bigger and you need more to fill that emptiness. I came to the conclusion that it just couldn't go on."

At the height of her addiction, Billie was spending £500 a week on heroin. Credit: Billie Hands/ ITV News

At the height of her addiction, she was spending £500 a week on heroin and funding her habit by working in a massage parlour.

"You mix with people when you're on drugs and you certainly don't have the highest set of principles,” Billie said.

"Back then, it was a popular thing to go to squats. If you saw people who had overdosed, you would just leave. It's not pretty especially being a woman, it's easy to sell your body for a fix."

Billie has two children, who are now both in their 30s, but the impact that her addiction has had on both her and them has been lasting.

She said: "You hope they will be your life and sober you up, but the madness was still there.

Billie now teaches jewellery-making workshops to help promote wellbeing. Credit: Billie Hands/ ITV News

"Children growing up in the madness will hurt. You can't expect them to grow up without scars.

"We have had therapy together and we still have therapy. But they don't smoke and they don't drink. We talk like any family and we have a wonderful, open relationship."

She realises how different things could have been if it wasn't for the strong mindset of both her children.

"I know people who are homeless, who have gone to jail. I am truly thankful," Billie said.

Mental health problems followed Billie throughout her life, but seeking help at Turning Point UK – a charity which helps people with drug and alcohol addiction - has helped turn her life around.

Billie is now helping others through their drug and alcohol addictions. Credit: Billie Hands/ ITV News

Having contemplated getting clean for a number of years, it was only when Billie was sat on her kitchen floor with a bottle of vodka, having tried to take her own life again, that she realised she needed help.

"I'd been drinking... knowing that my children were coming home.

"They had to call an ambulance but I realised you've got to change. I thought, 'is this your whole life, for you and your children?'

"I could have continued that way, but I wanted to change," Billie said.

Compared to some of the stories Billie hears helping others overcome their own addiction issues, she said her story is one of the happy ones.

She said: "At the beginning of the year, I know someone who lost their mother. There's someone who goes looking for their child every month, travelling to the last town they were last seen in.

"People don't realise this illness kills people on a daily basis. But there are people who want to help."