The family of a South Tyneside man who took his own life following a long drug addiction have described how cocaine "got its claws into him."
Peter Whale, 29, died in June after a long battle with cocaine.
His family have been speaking to ITV Tyne Tees as figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show the North East continues to have the highest rate of deaths relating to drug poisoning and drug misuse.
It's had the highest rate for the last nine years, with 402 deaths registered in 2021 alone.
Mr Whale's mother Linda said he had tried to protect her from how bad his addiction was. She said: "I didn’t have a clue about the pain he was in. I really didn’t. He was always full of life and full on fun.
"He came into my bedroom on the Friday night before it happened and we had a bit of a chat and he said I love you mam and then he went and that was the last thing he said to me.
"It's been hell, absolute hell. I would not want anybody to go through this. No child should go before their parents."
Peter was a singer and worked for his brother and sister-in-law's flooring company.
He had been using cocaine since his late teens and at his worst spent £250 a day on the drug.
His family had tried to support him, having him live with them and funding rehab. His father David said he thinks about his youngest son all the time.
He said: "I look back on the last year maybe you know and there are things I would have done differently.
"I would have kept my temper more with him now I know more about addiction and how it was affecting his life, poor lad.
"Our Peter went like this when I asked him how come it has become this problem, and, he went like this and said it's got its claws into me. It was horrible but I know what he meant."
Peter's brother John speaks about how, with Peter's consent, they had a tracker installed on his van so they knew if he had gone to buy drugs.
It was the tracker that alerted them that something had happened on the day he died in June.
John said: “On that Saturday morning I said to Louise can you check the tracker because me mam's on the phone and Peter’s not there and his van is not there.
"Louise checked the tracker and said 'oh my god John put the phone down and get some clothes on. Peter’s van is at the cliffs'.
"Two police officers started charging towards us from the cliff edge. Things are a blur then but I just kept shouting 'is my brother over there? Is my brother over there?'
"We were driving to my mam and dads house as we had to tell them. I was folding myself up into all sorts of different positions and making noises I didn’t know I was capable of making.
"It was just absolutely horrendous."
Peter's family are in the process of setting up Smile, The Peter Whale Foundation - a charity which aims to educate and raise awareness about drug addiction.
Peter's sister-in-law Louise Whale says they have already fundraised thousands of pounds and they want it to go on creating a legacy and saving lives.
Louise said: "Whether that be literature for drug and alcohol services, or a hard hitting poster in restaurants and pubs and educating children.
"Making it easier for parents so, maybe a children's story book. We've got so many ideas.
"We are not experts by any means the only thing we have got is the motivation and it’s the only thing we have left of Peter.
"I couldn’t save him and we all tried to, so maybe if we just save people in his name that might be ok."
The charity is being supported by Dez Hunter who was Peter's mentor and works with support groups across Tyneside.
He is a recovering addict after first taking drug when he was twelve years old.
Dez said: "It’s using against your own will and it’s hellish. It’s about destigmatizing and educating about people's pre conceptions about addiction.
"It sometimes does take things to happen and people to use it in a positive way and I think that’s what Peter’s family are trying to do my setting up this foundation.
"I will support anyway I can."
When asked what they're doing to support those suffering with addiction and tackle the big difference in drug death rates between the North and the South, a government spokesperson said: "Our landmark drug strategy will help rebuild drug treatment and recovery services to better support people through recovery, as well as tackling the criminal supply chains which fuel illegal drug markets.
"This will help to prevent nearly 1,000 deaths, deliver over 54,500 new treatment places - a 19% increase on current numbers - and support 24,000 more people into recovery from substance dependency.
"This funding is additional to the annual public health grant spend, and builds on the £80 million put into treatment services in 2021 which worked to decrease drug-related deaths by helping services distribute more naloxone, which can help reverse opiate overdoses."
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