Series looking at drug use across Britain. This episode takes a look at injecting-related injuries, including abscesses, open wounds and amputations.
Browse content similar to Swansea: Injecting Gone Wrong. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting and some strong language.
People use drugs for all different reasons.
People use drugs to forget about things.
People use drugs to get a buzz, to get a high.
People use drugs...
..because they've had things happen to them when they was a child.
People use drugs because they've been brought up
and they don't know any different.
For years, the rolling valleys and sprawling towns of South Wales
have hidden a pervasive underground drug scene.
High levels of injecting mean thousands of users
experience a serious wound or injury every year.
Overdose is the one that catches all the headlines,
but there are so many problems associated with injecting drug use.
According to the NHS, places like Swansea
have seen a recent spike in blood-borne viruses,
infections, abscesses, and even amputations.
We're talking about life-threatening conditions.
You can lose limbs, you can lose your life.
Over six months, I met a series of individuals
who invited me to film their lives and see the devastating consequences
of what happens when injecting drugs goes wrong.
January this year, they amputated my leg.
At the age of 12, my mother gave me some heroin to sell.
And I ended up using it myself,
and I became an addict at the age of 12.
I love my mother to bits, you know.
I just perhaps...
went the wrong path with the drugs and everything, you know.
I grew up in some care homes sometimes.
I'd end up running away from those...
..just to get back home.
The first-ever time I had any needle, it didn't do nothing.
The second time I done it, and I done a little tiny bit more...
Phew, I was on my knees.
I was literally on my knees. I thought I was going to die.
What dog's that, mate? Boxer, is it? Boxer?
-American bulldog. Lovely dog, innit?
I've had three drug overdoses.
I've nearly lost my life a few times.
I had been in intensive care for 28 or 29 days.
Had a big abscess on one lung
and I had more than five and less than ten on my other lung.
So I was close to death.
But I was performing to leave the hospital,
cos I'd run out of drugs and I wanted to go and get more drugs.
I know a friend of mine who's lost his leg
through injecting down below.
I know people who've come close to losing their legs, as myself.
I missed the vein in my groin.
It was the biggest vein in your body and the easiest one to go in,
but little did I know the damage it could cause.
They cut a large part of my leg away
and ended up stitching it back together.
I'll just show a small part of it.
Right to the underneath on my leg.
So it goes three quarters of the way round.
The doctor had said I had nearly lost my leg.
He came that close to taking my leg off.
Lower parts of my legs, scarring.
So I advise anyone at home looking at this
just to not use heroin,
because this is what it does.
Michael only narrowly avoided amputation
as a result of his drug use.
The longer he continues to inject, the more at risk he is
of these types of severe, life-altering consequences.
My name is Brandon Miles, and I was born in Swansea in 1969.
Grew up on these hills,
catching horses, playing in the dirt and eating worms.
I was an intravenous user of heroin,
methamphetamine, and EP, ethylphenidate,
for a period of 14 years.
Every single day, several times a day.
Here I am...
..well, look, a mess.
Ah, my toe, my leg.
My other... My right leg.
My hernia, my cochlea.
My nose, my teeth.
I'm in a mess.
Ah, it's all to do with just... I was taking drugs, I think.
Brandon recently had his right leg amputated
due to injuries caused by years of injecting drugs.
At 47, he's found himself newly disabled,
adapting to life as an amputee.
He was on his way to pawn his laptop
after his disability benefit had run out for the week.
I need about... £60, £70 for the laptop
to cover the cost of living for the next few days.
It goes on bills, it goes on food,
domestic products, takeaways, taxis,
if I need any painkillers.
It's hard. I'm demoralised, I suppose.
Yeah, cheers, man. See you again, yeah?
Thanks a lot. Bye. OK, I'll see you shortly, then.
Despite having spent money on a cab to get there,
the pawn shop wouldn't take Brandon's laptop,
meaning he was out of money for the rest of the week.
It's like I'm in a trip. It's so surreal.
It's just like, what the fuck...?
Chin up, mate.
I don't want sympathy. Or empathy.
I want a fucking leg. I want it to grow back.
Later that day, Brandon talked me through
how injecting had led to his leg being amputated.
I missed a vein.
And I think I blew a capillary, because I used a super-fine needle.
Brandon showed me pictures of the abscess
that he'd taken during his stay in the hospital.
I was like that for two years. It got bigger and bigger.
That's the 31st of the 12th 2015.
After two years of fighting infection,
doctors amputated Brandon's right leg below the knee.
I didn't set out with the intent, you know, of doing this.
This here, this is... You know what I mean?
There's a lot of things I can't do.
You know, I can't just run up to the shop.
And that's depressing.
It's made my life 100 times harder.
Just injecting it. Trying to, anyway.
This is the trouble I've got to go through.
All the fucking time.
I'm just pushing it.
Thank fuck for that, man.
Takes all fucking day otherwise.
HE INHALES DEEPLY AND EXHALES
Sorry about that.
Them people out there watching this, don't fucking touch heroin.
It hurts, you know, just to find a vein in my body.
I don't know the reason why human beings hurt themselves.
Yeah, I wish I had the answer, because...
..perhaps I wouldn't do it any more, you know.
Since losing his leg,
Brandon has had to adapt to life as a disabled person.
For the past few months,
his friend Ed has been coming round to help him with day-to-day chores
such as cooking, cleaning and doing the shopping.
-Tea or coffee?
-I'll have coffee, please.
Whilst Ed helps out when he can, Brandon has recently asked
if he would consider becoming his full-time carer.
He could claim carer's allowance
and I'm allowed to claim severe disability payments,
-or scheme or whatever it is, I don't know.
-So you'd be Brandon's official carer?
I've been thinking about it for a while,
but we'll see how it pans out now.
It all depends on, you know,
if Brandon is serious about committing to this
-and doesn't, you know, go off on...
-..a mad scheme for a week and disappears.
Cos I know he does get...
After a few months, he does get, like, "Ahh!"
On top of losing one leg,
it became apparent that the ulcer on Brandon's remaining leg
was refusing to heal.
This meant he was facing the real possibility
of becoming a double amputee.
Brandon was now relying on Ed
to take him to and from medical appointments
to have his wound cleaned and re-dressed.
I'm in pain.
-The infection's getting worse on the toe?
That's my leg.
Underneath this area, this dressing, is an ulcer
roughly the size of the dressing.
Can you see the discolouration of the skin?
That is what they're going to soak off. I can't take that off.
-So if you take that off, it rips off the skin?
-Yeah, of course.
..I'm filming at the minute, yeah?
All right, bye. Bye.
-How often do you have to go to get this wash?
-Three times a week.
-Does it hurt when they do it?
-Yeah, it does, yeah.
After speaking with Ed,
it became apparent that Brandon was resorting to more
than just prescription drugs to deal with his pain.
None of the medication they've given him
is having the time to work because he...can't stop smoking drugs.
So his body's basically just going round in circles.
He's discharged himself from hospital, I think, eight times.
He was even smoking crack in the hospital at some point.
-Is that a bit better?
Oh, God, I'm dead.
Well, lucky you're not a horse, innit?
-Oh, yeah, they'd shoot me.
If I do all this and it ends up to be in vain,
I'm sorry, I'm just going to say, "Brandon, I tried,
"it's up to you, mate," and just walk away from it.
Bad enough losing one leg,
but two through your own stupidity is...
In Swansea, for injecting, is terrible.
It's all squats where people just go in, inject,
and just chuck their syringes on the floor.
It's really bad for people injecting in Swansea. Real... Real bad.
Although the squat Johnno was living in
was filled with used needles and dirty injecting equipment,
he'd managed to clear out a room for himself to sleep in.
Injecting in squats like the one Johnno was staying in
comes with a much higher risk of infection.
It turned out Johnno
had only recently had a very close call himself.
I had an abscess that started eating away at my leg.
I got a lift straight to the hospital
cos I knew it was going to open up.
It feels like as if someone's pouring
a boiling hot kettle of water over your leg.
It was a mess. It went outside the vein.
It was...really painful.
As you can see, it's healed up now.
But I've known people to walk round for weeks
with their leg...
all red raw, all the way down, and it's just like a balloon.
The rise in injecting wounds and abscesses like Michael's
has become a serious concern across South Wales.
In Newport, needle exchange coordinator Mike Mallett
has decided to take things into his own hands.
A third of all injecting drug users
will suffer some kind of wound, abscess,
open ulcer, at some point per year.
In March 2016, Mike opened a specialised wound clinic
to treat injecting drug users.
This is a mess, this is, in my leg.
Cos I'm on the streets, I can't look after it as well as I'd like to,
clean it and all that.
Not looking too good,
but it's looking a lot better than what it was.
That black skin is what we call necrotic, OK?
And that's basically what we want to take out.
So what the dressings do that I'm going to put on,
-help to break that down and liquefy it...
-..and draws it off,
so don't worry if it looks a bit wet or it gets a bit smelly.
-That's what the dressings are designed to do.
-So, this is just sterile water.
-Just so I can wash it.
'People in these situations
'can become very, very isolated very quickly.'
There is that stigma attached to being a drug user,
and that's often what restricts the drive to go and seek help,
because they're worried about how they're going to be perceived,
how they're going to be met.
If you hadn't have been able to come here, what would you have done?
Do you know what? It would have been...
I would have left it, get really bad,
and probably got rushed into hospital
with septicaemia or something,
cos like I said, I've got no access to any doctor
or any medical help, so it's only the hospital,
and I don't really like going there.
I'd say 95% of doctors are very anti-drug
and, you know, they say, "Oh, it's self-inflicted."
The vast majority of injecting drug users
are highly stigmatised by health professionals,
who perhaps are less than sympathetic
and treat those individuals differently.
If you know you are not going to be treated well,
you are less likely to come forward for help.
To explain just how bad the problem had got,
Mike decided to show me pictures
of some of the most serious wounds he'd treated in the past few months.
When she came in to see me,
she didn't have a bandage or anything,
so when she presented here,
she actually had a tea towel covering that wound,
cos that's all she had in the house.
It is like battlefield dressing sometimes.
If you're injecting four £10 bags of heroin a day
and you're still feeling that pain,
my God, what would it be like without the heroin?
There is that potential for much greater damage than we currently see
because of that inability or reluctance or difficulty
in accessing treatment, and however relatively minor,
if it doesn't get any kind of intervention,
it's going to get worse.
It was clear from speaking to Mike's patients
the wound clinic was the only place many felt they could go
and be treated fairly.
If it weren't for places like this,
I know there's half a dozen men walking round town
that'd be in chairs with no legs.
You don't get it...
You can talk to people about it,
but you ain't going to find anywhere else like this.
For Mike, early intervention wasn't just about helping people in pain.
There was also, potentially, a serious knock-on effect for the NHS.
There's a human cost and there's a financial cost.
More drugs, different types of medications,
possibly even surgery, hospital admissions.
Eventually, it costs everyone.
You know, wounds can develop into septicaemia, into sepsis,
you can lose limbs, you can lose your life.
Although Mike's clinic offers hope for younger users
seeking treatment in the future,
back in Swansea, Brandon had already lost one limb
and was in danger of losing another.
When I caught up with him,
he was desperately searching for alternative treatments
in a bid to save his remaining leg.
I did lose my right leg in the end.
Now it's my left leg that's sore and what have you,
and I don't want to lose my left leg.
After weeks of waiting,
Brandon finally managed to book a session with a local charity
who offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
-Hi, Brendan. All right?
You're going to be in there for an hour and a half,
-so if you need to use the loo...
-..better go now!
Brandon was hoping the hyperbaric treatment
would help to heal his abscess and save his remaining leg.
'It's available for a multitude of things.
'In Brandon's case, we're looking for wound healing.
'It heals from the inside out.'
It gives your chest a good workout, too.
-It's what they call a demand valve.
The charity offering the therapy was run on donations
and set up for people who suffer from multiple sclerosis.
I wanted to ask Christine, who ran the centre,
why she decided to give Brandon a much sought-after seat
in the oxygen chamber.
'So, people with MS are prioritised.'
After that, it's basically life-threatening.
I had no idea that, you know, it was through drug use.
Not that that would make any difference.
Everybody needs care regardless of how it happens, you know.
Why did he choose to go down that road?
Was it peer pressure? How young was he?
Was it desperation? Was it despondency?
Was it depression?
Is it making me feel better? Initially, probably, it was.
Just because you've made that bad choice
doesn't mean to say you're a bad person.
My whole life fell apart.
One of my ex-missus ran off with my kids
and denied me access to my children.
My business fell apart, everything, the home fell apart.
Or I fell apart.
You obviously had this sort of break-up of your family
when you were 32.
-Have you ever really recovered from that?
-Do you consider...?
-Well, look at me. I mean...
Losing my sight. I've lost my right leg.
I've lost my left leg, almost, eventually, or soon.
-How do you come back from it?
I don't know.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just lost and there's no way back.
There's no breadcrumbs for me to follow, you know.
I don't know what to do.
Oh, God, it's snapped.
-You snapped the crack pipe?
-I have, yeah.
-How have you managed that?
-I don't know. Don't know.
Oh, bloody hell.
Just going to tape it back together.
Ed, can you bring some tape over quickly?
(I've just snapped the crack pipe.)
-'You've snapped what?'
-(The crack pipe.)
-'The crack pipe?'
-(The crack pipe, I've snapped it in half.)
Yeah, something, please, quickly, yeah, before they notice.
'All right, all right. I've got a pair of tongs as well.'
OK, see you shortly.
'The crack pipe Brandon had broken
'belonged to someone else in the house
'and he was keen to fix it before they found out.'
-Surely they'll notice when you tape it back together.
But they'll notice the Sellotape on it.
Well done, Ed.
Ed, can you quickly do this?
Yeah, it's OK.
-You look like you've done that before, Ed.
Yeah, I have. A few times.
For Michael, Brandon and Johnno,
there were familiar issues of coping with pain and trauma,
whether it was a battle with addiction, loss of a limb,
or the cutting isolation of homelessness,
being kept away from your family.
Do you think when your kids grow up, they would understand?
Heroin's not going to ruin my life any more, you know.
I know perhaps I'm doing it now,
but I'm going to cut myself down slowly
till it's just me and my script, and that's it.
Sometimes it brings me close to tears.
I know the damage I've done to myself.
I don't want to lose my leg.
I don't want to die. I don't want to die.
Since I've lost my leg,
obviously my confidence has gone, depression's set in.
You know, I've had suicidal thoughts and all sorts of things.
And it's not me and it's not what I want.
It's just too negative.
I hope it doesn't prevent me from doing the things that I dream of.
You or I enjoy family, friends, loved ones.
When we're down, they'll back us up.
A lot of injecting drug users don't have that.
The more isolated they become, the more vulnerable they become.
Drug users require specialist services where they are.
We need to have a rethink.
If I'm trying not to use and I end up using,
I really beat myself up.
But I've got to realise it's just one little step at a time.
It feels like sometimes that...
I need drugs to survive.
And that's a scary thought.
I went out on Friday night for my birthday.
I had about eight cans of Bud as well, so that cheered me up.
And I can't really remember much.
It was quite a quiet night.
-Happy birthday, Ed.
# Happy birthday to you!
# Happy birthday to you
# Happy birthday, dear Edward
# Happy birthday to you. #
-And a cake.
-Oh, bloody hell.
-I've got to blow them out now, have I?
-Yeah, and a wish, yeah.
-PARTY POPPER POPS
Put it there.
-Appreciate that, right.
-I know, I know.
-He's a good man, honestly.
Would anyone like some cake?
Ed Walker, ladies and gentlemen!
BRANDON PLAYS A TUNE
I'd just love a girlfriend.
I'd love a car, I'd love to be able to drive.
I'd love my legs... I'd love new legs.
Can you give me new legs?!
See why we stay here?
-Cos it's God's country?
-It's all God's country, isn't it?
-Do you know the words?!
Huh? Sorry, I was falling asleep.