'I pestered dying mother for money to buy drugs'

'I pestered dying mother for money to buy drugs'

SINGAPORE - He was 13 when he took his first puff of marijuana.

That marked the start of a 20-year fight with drugs, in which he would lose his friends, his family's respect and his mother.

But at that time, the teenage Johnny Chin just wanted to fit in with his gang member friends.

So he got a tattoo, got into fights and tried drugs. Soon, he was taking heroin and Subutex, mixing them with the sleeping pill Dormicum.

But he wasn't an insomniac, neither did he suffer from anxiety attacks - ailments that Dormicum was prescribed for.

So Mr Chin, now 38, ended up buying the pills from GPs or on the black market.

"They were very easy to get - I would go from clinic to clinic and lie that I was working overseas. Doctors hardly asked me any questions," he recalled.

In 2000, the going rate was about $1 a pill. In 2007, he paid $7 each. In contrast, a 0.2g straw of heroine cost $50.

He would crush the Dormicum pill into a powder and mix it with water or Coca-Cola. Sometimes, he would consume it with Subutex and the cough syrup Codeine.

At one stage, he was injecting himself up to 15 times a day. "I could stay in my room the whole day, surviving on just three small buns because I didn't feel like doing anything else except inject myself."

When he ran out of money to fund his $300 weekly fix, "I would lie, beg, borrow or steal from friends".

His addiction became so extreme that the veins on his hands and legs collapsed. Undeterred, Mr Chin turned to injecting drugs into the veins in his neck.

One by one, his father and two brothers turned away from him. But his mother stood by her middle son.

She would stay up to open the door for him. "I was so high, I couldn't even slot the key into the keyhole," he said. "Even when my mother was on her death bed, I pestered her for money to buy drugs."

Turn over a new leaf

She eventually died of lung cancer.

One day in 2007, while staring at his reflection, Mr Chin was appalled. "I was so skinny I couldn't recognise myself."

It was time, he thought, to turn over a new leaf.

He checked himself into a halfway house and since then, has stayed clean.

Now working as a counsellor at The New Charis Mission, he gives anti-drug talks to students and sometimes pitches in to clean the elderly's rental flats. "I can't tell you how meaningful it is. From being an outcast, I am now able to contribute to society and impact others' lives."

Happily married, the father of a month-old baby girl admits that quitting requires a change in mindset.

"For addicts, drugs are an enjoyment. Some young people think there's no harm.

"But the truth is, if you try once, you will go back (and try) again. You'll be stuck in bondage."

Those seeking treatment for sleeping pill addictions at the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health have to first go through an assessment.

After checks by a psychiatrist and counsellor, a treatment programme is tailored according to the individual's needs.

Dr Gomathinayagam Kandasami, chief of IMH's addiction medicine department and Nams' consultant psychiatrist, said: "We have both in-patient and outpatient programmes, and treatment may involve initial medical detoxification... Patients need to follow-up with a rehab programme (like) individual, group or family counselling."

Hotlines

National Addictions Management Service (Nams): 6-RECOVER (6732 6837) / For more information, go to www.nams.sg

The New Charis Mission: 6483 3707

 kohht@sph.com.sg

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