CHASING AFTER THE WIND
by Kerryn Redpath
The Mickie Dalton Foundation, Coffs Harbour
Paperback: 286 pages
Reviewed by Jacqueline Gwynne
The title of Kerryn Redpath’s book published last year describes the experience of a drug addict: chasing a feeling that is unattainable. Her story details the personal account of addiction that began as a teenager experimenting with alcohol and cigarettes.
Hollywood films depict drug use as glamorous, exciting and a rite of passage for young people. This book, however, gives the truth and the ugly side of drug addiction. It also provides comprehensive research and resources for parents and educators.
Kerryn grew up in Melbourne and still resides in the city named the “World’s Most Liveable”. Although Australia is a great place to live, with its beach culture and beautiful natural landscapes, there has been an increase in mental illness in recent decades. In 2014 the United Nations World Drug Report announced that Australia had the highest rates of recreational drug use in the world. Drugs are used to mask the feelings of trauma, anxiety and depression, and their use is also associated with mental health conditions in young people with no prior diagnosed condition.
Kerryn had a carefree upbringing within a loving family, camping by the beach and horse riding; but, as happens with many teenagers, her curiosity got the better of her. At the age of 18, she got her driver’s licence and felt a taste of freedom. It was then that she tried marijuana for the first time. Alcohol and marijuana had become a normalised and accepted part of youth culture. But it wasn’t long before Kerryn’s addiction escalated into using harder drugs including heroin and speed.
There has been a push to legalise marijuana. The trouble with that is that, with addictive substances and activities such as gambling, legalisation has only acted to normalise and exacerbate problems, creating greater demand, and leading to more addictions and lives being destroyed.
Take a parallel case. Gaming venues in Victoria were legalised in 1992 and there has been a huge increase in gambling addictions and other societal problems stemming from that, including family dysfunction and violence.
Prescription drugs have caused more deaths than have all illicit drugs combined. The Australian Bureau of Statistics gathered data from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in 2013. This data found that 68 per cent of the 668 overdose deaths that year were caused by prescription medications. Pharmaceutical drugs are now in high demand on the black market. This only demonstrates that legalisation will most likely create more problems.
It is claimed that marijuana is harmless and not addictive. But it is not possible for any drug to be 100 per cent safe. Especially with the strength of hydroponic and genetically modified varieties of weed being sold, we have no way of telling what effect the chemicals will have on developing brains. Scientific research has now linked marijuana to mental illness, brain damage and cancer.
Australian comedian Dave Hughes had issues with drug addiction but quit at the age of 21 after psychotic episodes from smoking marijuana. He has been sober since that time and has been outspoken about the risks of alcohol and drugs. Dave has made a full recovery and made a successful career. The majority of drug addicts are not that lucky.
Marijuana strips young people of motivation and they see their dreams evaporate, resulting in depression, which in turn leads to an increase in admissions to psychiatric wards with conditions ranging from bipolar disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia in habitual users.
The brain does not fully mature until the age of 30 and even moderate use among adult weed smokers still has risks. It cannot be claimed that it is safe or completely risk free. Rather, for adolescents and young people, the effects can be devastating.
Kerryn’s experience is harrowing and began as just a bit of fun. After several near-death episodes and overdoses, she finally quit drugs and alcohol at the age of 25. To continue would most likely have killed her.
There has been some permanent damage and scarring but she has managed to turn her life around. After spending six months bedridden and five months in hospital with heart and kidney failure, she was forced to quit completely. Her kidneys shrunk to the size of walnuts and doctors said as a result she would probably not be able to carry a child.
Kerryn has survived the odds and is now happy with three adult children. She uses her experience to educate young people in schools and TAFEs about the realities of drug use.