The shocking story of a Cardiff man’s 12-year drug addiction and how he turned his life around

Report by ITV Wales reporter Megan Boot

A man who was hooked on drugs for 12 years and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on his habit has opened up about his spiral of addiction that led him to daily drug use.

It comes after deaths due to drug poisoning surged by 44% in Wales in 2021, with warnings that the cost of living crisis could further increase the number of people taking illegal drugs.

Cullan Mais, from Cardiff, told ITV Cymru Wales he never expected to become addicted to drugs."It came on so sudden, I think people were very surprised how I come from this one kid who was very innocent, happy-go-lucky to then, 'Cullan is using heroin, he's a heroin addict.' It come on so quickly, not just for myself but people on the outside, as well, it came as a shock."He described how his usage quickly escalated.

Cullan Mais spent time in prison for shoplifting in order to pay for his addiction Credit: Cullan Mais

He said: "It went from monthly, to fortnightly, to weekly.

"I remember the first time when I woke up and my life changed – I knew I had a physical addiction to something and I didn't know how to stop."

He added: "I felt dirty, I felt vulnerable - yeah, I was just a shell."

Cullan says he believes he got involved in illegal drugs for several reasons - his mental health, the people he started to spend time with, and bad decision-making.

He began shoplifting to pay for his addiction and was sent to prison as a result.

But, it wasn't prison that stopped his addiction – it was one night he woke up, struggling to breath, believing he would die. 

Figures show that areas in south Wales have some of the highest drug deaths anywhere in Wales or England.Neil Woods from Law Enforcement Action Partnership UK says he expects this to worsen in the cost of living crisis.

He said: "We have clear evidence from our past – not just UK, but around the world – the poorest communities suffer the most, where we have an epidemic of problematic drug use because people are using drugs to cope with the struggles of life... to cope with emotional pain, to cope with childhood trauma.

"And unless those traumas and those problems are dealt with, that problem will only accelerate when there's an added pressure and the cost of living crisis is an added pressure."

In hospital, Cullan said he made a bargain with himself that if he got through that period he would never take drugs again, and share his experiences and help whoever he can."I said, 'Please, let me get through this, let me just get through this and I will never take drugs again, I promise, and I promise you I will share my experiences and I will help whoever I can - please let me get through this'"

He now works in services that help people dealing with addiction, and is sharing his story with police to help them build their awareness of the impact drugs can have.

After over a decade spent addicted to drugs, now Cullan talks about his addiction to help others Credit: Cullan Mais

"Looking back now, the whole thing is a bad dream," he said.

He added: “It gives me hope for others who are still in addiction, and it gives me hope for the police that we are going in the right direction - they’re listening.”

Jeremy Vaughan, Chief Constable of South Wales Police, said that the police are doing a "reasonably good job" in dealing with drug dealers and are dedicated to that work, but also understand that people with drug addiction "need help."

"Those people who need to fund their habit end up turning to crime often to do that if they can't fund it in any other way, so of course we're nervous about that," he said.

He continued: "Of course it would be better if we weren't facing that level of crisis, and part of what we need to do is, whilst on the one hand our job is to make the environment really difficult for drug dealers, really invest time and effort in infiltrating their crime groups and taking them down, we also need to recognise that people need help."

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