A former homeless drug addict from Larne says he would be dead without the support of local charities who helped him turn his life around.
23-year-old Raymond Laverty began smoking at the tender age of 13.
He then progressed to using cannabis , before becoming addicted to legal highs and eventually falling prey to cocaine and ecstasy.
During this time, Raymond became homeless and was reduced to sleeping on park benches and “sofa-surfing” at friends’ houses.
Recalling his experience, Raymond, who has been clean for the past two years, stated: “It was terrible being addicted to legal highs, it was a living hell.”
“The legal highs were given to me originally by a so-called friend, who said they were safe as they were legal and it drew me in.
“My body started to crave them.
“Eventually I became homeless last year because of the drugs.
“At night I would have slept in parks.
“It was dangerous as you never knew who was there, you were just concerned with staying warm and dry.”
Raymond then sought the help of local charities PIPS Larne, the Simon Community and the Hope Centre in Ballymena.
“Carlee Letson from PIPS Larne helped me with counselling and she organised therapies like acupuncture which helped,” he revealed.
“I got off the drugs and now I’m back living in the community and volunteering at re:store in Larne.
“I thrive on life now and I’m hoping to get a job, save up for my own place and settle down.”
Raymond has an important message for young people thinking of taking legal highs.
“Don’t even think about trying any drugs, he said.”
“Things like e-cigarettes can be a gateway to harder drugs and legal highs will ruin your life.”
Coordinator and Chairperson of PIPS Larne Carlee Letson commented:
“When Raymond came to us he was in a bad way.”
“He responded to the help and support we put in place for him.
“He did really well and we wish him all the best for the future.”
Worryingly, Carlee says substance abuse is now affecting younger children.
“When Raymond started he was 13, but now we would have even younger ones coming to us ,” she revealed.
“The youngest we have had was a 10-year-old child who was taking cannabis.
“He had been offered it and kids want to be accepted, it’s peer pressure.
“We worked with Barnardos, who are fantastic, to help the child.”
Despite Dunluce Street hydroponics shop Northern Lights shutting its doors a month ago, Carlee says substance about continues to be rife on Larne’s streets.
“This issue isn’t going to go away,” she explained.
“The older ones get the substances on the internet.
“We would urge anyone who is facing the same issues Raymond was to get in touch with us.
To contact PIPS for help, phone 07530797716.
PIPS is also now seeking donations for its new charity shop which will open soon.
To donate, phone 07972705564.