Category Archives: overdose

Cold Substance

Their tears spill over my lids,
sting my eyes, drip down my skin.

Some families direct their rage at other victims,
laying blame, unable to comprehend that their children’s choices
were freely made.
I have been like them, and there are times when I wish
I hadn’t learnt my lessons so well;
that I could rise up and say, “it was him”;
anything to take my mind off the streets of pain, the losses
that gain in number every day —
but the perpetrator is faceless;
a brown powder with no individual markings
and no sentiency.

When I was a child, dessicated coconut was often sprinkled onto our school puddings. I thought it was the worst thing that had ever been invented; hate seemed an appropriate word to use in connection with it.

Now I direct my seething hate
at tiny packages that once cost thirty quid, but have since
dropped to twenty-five.

I want to shout obscenities at heroin;
to voice my hatred, to threaten the needle of death with annihilation,
to spit foam at the filth, as I scream: kill, kill…
but every time I get there too late, and with no weapons,
while passionless heroin builds up its armoury, boosting itself
with hidden fentanil,
another cold substance with no brain,
no wicked heart to whisper: death to the meek,
yet it enters the veins of pained seekers,
and fills up our graves.

As fatalities leap,
we repeat the phrase: rest in peace,
please rest in peace, we beg,
rest in peace with the rest
who rest forever in peace.

We brave the rain to lean bouquets against
wet walls where grieving souls will weep
to see wilting petals push those they love
into history.

We walk away, wishing for white doves,
their beaks holding gifts of gentle serenity,
and helplessly, we say:
At least he is finally at peace.

Rest In Peace, Nathaniel – your friends will remember you as one of the best.

I was eleven years old when I first heard the following song. I was deeply affected by the horrific imagery. The words stayed with me, playing in my head when my best friend at college became addicted to heroin, and all through the years of my children’s addictions.

©Jane Paterson Basil

You Can’t Tell


We used to like to play in the nearby farmyard. We would run and hide in the sheds and outbuildings, jumping out from behind derelict equipment, climbing in and out of rusty machinery, evading sharp edges and hidden pitfalls.

Sometimes we’d go to the barn where the hay was stacked. We’d burrow into it, making nests and dens. Wayward hens often bedded there to lay unfertilised eggs in the scratchy heat. They would eventually abandon them when they didn’t bear fruit .

We’d find these eggs, weigh their brown, oval perfection in our childish hands, gently pile them up, and when we had plenty, we’d throw them against the fence, smashing the shells, and watching their innards splat.

Sometimes the yokes were golden and fresh, and we would be guiltily disappointed at the waste.

We were watching for the ones which were dirty green.

We stood well back so the stench wouldn’t hit us.

When you look at the shell of an egg, you can’t tell whether it is healthy or rotten.

I couldn’t tell by looking at my son,
until he smashed himself against the wall.

© Jane Paterson Basil

Final Hit

image adapted by Jane Basil from:

“just one final hit
tomorrow I will get clean
just this one last hit”

her drug-dusted wings
lift me from my muddied mire
until tomorrow

the daybreak brings pain
“tomorrow I will be stronger
after this final ——”


a heartless promise
kept by the needle’s swift pierce
brings blackened silence

stretching out until
loved ones who have grieved for years
fill it with their tears

concealing whispers
which slowly gain momentum
to become a chant

increasing masses
of lost and weakened people
join the throng and cry

“just one final hit
tomorrow I will get clean
just this one last hit”

© Jane Paterson Basil

How it Felt


Ten thousand night terrors
                         s t r e t c h e d - o u t
                        when I found you
               before your
                     it was
                           that culmination
                    of ten thousand night terrors
               was filled with lifetimes of grief at my loss
  that dread eternal instant
then adrenalin drove me to action:
a message surged into my brain
demanding that you live again
I needed you to be alive
I needed you to survive

heroin was the heartless whore
that held you in her needled claw
and though I feared her murderous might
I wouldn't let her win this fight
the weight of my love gave a beat to your heart
as I gave you the massage of life
and matching my pulse was the chant in my head
you can't be dead you can't be dead
my body became a machine for survival
rhythmically working for your revival
and when the paramedics came
 and tagged me in my desperate game
  they had to fight heroically
    to finalise recovery
            that night
         extended outwards
to become the core and the crust of my existence

© Jane Paterson Basil



*Crystal is a ‘legal high’ drug that is considered by many to be more lethal than heroin.

Sally thought that her troubles were ending
When Beth’s long-term boyfriend had died.
Her daughter just stopped using crystal,*
As she wept and she wailed and she cried
With her spoon, vit-e and some needles
Which she couldn’t be bothered to hide.

The irony was not lost on Sally.
When she thought about all of the years
Full of shame, frustration and anger
Disgust and horror and tears;
Of the bags of brown powder that made her
Unable to smother her fears.

It had seemed that the worst thing had happened
When she’d learnt that her damaged girl
Was locked in the jaws of addiction
To a drug that made her soul curl
And powdery sand filled the cavities
Of her beautiful priceless pearl.

For years Beth had fought her addiction
And sometimes for months she was clean
It would often appear to be in the past
Or as if it never had been
But always the golden brown monster
Was lurking beside her, unseen.

Sally didn’t know quite when it started,
But the rumour, once out, didn’t stop
That a cure for this awful addiction
Could be found in the ‘legal high’ shop,
And addicts were shooting up crystal
Til their brains were starting to pop.

Now all of Beth’s friends were suggesting
It may help her a lot if she tried
This marvelous new medication
So she finally joined their side
And six months later her boyfriend
Was found the day after he died.

With his arm rolled up to his shoulder
As he kneeled on the floor as in prayer
With a bag of smack in his pocket
Quite blameles (as if it would care)
And the name of the thing that had killed him
The coroner shortly will share.

But the word on the lips of insiders
Is that crystal took him away
Because if he hadn’t done crystal
He would be walking and talking today
And no-one admits that they’re guilty
And no-one is going to pay

Although legal hits are for humans
As a cheap way of getting high
A disclaimer is put on the label
So if you should happen to die
It ”wasn’t the fault of the seller”
But a stupid thing to try.

So Beth had been crystal-crazy
Since summer had brought the heat
Her body was wasted to nothing
Because she had ceased to eat
She had cut herself all over;
On her legs and her arms and her feet.

She shouted of numbers and patterns
Of rapists that called while she slept
Of people who tracked all her movements
And knew all of the secrets she kept
And no matter what you may tell her
The facts she could not accept.

But Richie now lay on a cold metal slab
And Beth was starting to see
Amidst the pain and confusion
Just where she wanted to be;
Not under the ground ina coffin
But at home with her family.

Yet no sooner had her mother
Recovered her cautious smile
Than Beth wrapped herself around crystal again
Reverting to behaviour so vile
That Sally was left with no option
But to turn from her anger and bile.

She couldn’t take any more insults
She couldn’t take any more pain
She had reached out her hand and turned her cheek
Then she’d done it all over again
And she felt if Beth stayed another hour
It would only drive her insane.

She told her to go, to walk out the door.
To leave her, to go away
Yet no matter how she begged her
It seemed she was going to stay.
She said she was going, but stood by the door
She said she had more to say.

And the nonsense that can from her mouth
Was cutting and cruel and untrue
So Beth felt she had no option
And the only thing she could do
Was to push her outside quite gently
And not to let her back through.

As she leant on the door she was weeping
And her daughter went mumbling away.
She prayed for intervention
She prayed that she’d see the day
When her family was whole and well again
And whole and well they’d stay

And then with a smile she remembered
Her beautiful son safe and well
Putting his life back together
As he sat in his prison cell
And she thought how only a year ago
Jail seemed like a living hell.

But these last twelve months had changed him
He’d worked and he’d thought and he’d tried
He was clean from drugs and lies and theft,
And praying he wouldn’t slide
And every time she thought of him
Her heart was full of pride.

So even when life seems darkest
And there’s evil at every turn
There still may be opportunities
To grow and to heal and to learn
So maybe before Sally knows it
The Beth whom she loves will return.

© Jane Paterson Basil