‘I approached my own son for drugs’: Life at the centre of the benzo crisis | UK News

“It was an all consuming fear that I would just stop breathing in my sleep, but still, all I wanted was to take more.”

“I approached my own son in the street asking for drugs, that’s how low I was, benzos just destroyed my life.”

These are the stories of two separate people with the same catastrophic addiction to a prescription drug.

Thirty years apart in age and 200 miles apart in distance, their stories are scarily similar.

I meet Rory Maslen (they/them), 21, at their university flat in Leeds. As Rory sank into the sofa, they look at me with a timid smile.

They’re about to talk me through haunted years. The ones filled with an undying desperation to guzzle more of the drug that was killing them.

Benzo story - Rory Maslen
Rory Maslen would ‘eat pills by the handful’

Inside the four walls of Rory’s university room once lived anxiety, depression and what they thought was the remedy – benzos.

“There were weeks at a time when the only reason I would leave my accommodation was to go and pick up a few boxes of pills.

“I was literally eating pills by the handful just to get through the day.”

Across the border in Edinburgh, William Anderson, 53, sits in his temporary accommodation generously recounting his painful tale, as I hang on his every word.

“After my daughter died when I was 19, I turned to benzos to cope with the grief.

“I got them prescribed by the doctor – seven pills a day – but when that wasn’t enough I started getting them on the street too.”

Benzo story - William Anderson
William Anderson turned to benzos following the death of his daughter

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What are benzos?

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety prescription drugs that have flooded the illicit market.

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What are Benzos?

The drug is supposed to be prescribed, but thousands of vulnerable people across the UK are buying dangerous street benzos to self-medicate according to charities like Turning Point and UKAT.

And now testing services are raising the alarm after finding street benzos sold for as little as 10p are being cut with a synthetic opioid 10 times stronger than Fentanyl.

‘Stripped of any free will’

What began as self-medication for Rory turned into self destruction.

“Before I knew it, I was completely stripped of any free will, any major thought in my head all the time was focused on getting more benzos.”

Rory told me they were taking 30 benzo pills per day when they started experiencing life threatening seizures and side effects.

Benzo story - Rory Maslen
Rory’s excessive drug consumption led to life threatening seizures and other side effects

“Your muscles hurt, your bones hurt, you have constant tremors and if you go outside in the sun it feels like your eyes are burning. You’re hot and cold, more so than I’ve ever felt ever before.”

‘Approached my own son for drugs’

For Will, a lifetime of trauma, grief and isolation drove him to dive head first into what he calls “benzo oblivion”.

Taking 100 pills a day and selling benzos to fuel his addiction, Will was on the edge of death.

After a 20 year battle with benzos, Will tells me he tried to take his own life. The amount of benzos he took knocked him out for four days, but still he continued using.

“The lowest moment of my life was approaching a group of guys in the street and asking for drugs.

“When I looked up I realised it was my own son – the only son that was still in contact with me.

“The look of shame he had was the worst feeling in the world.

“The next morning I woke up and screamed in the mirror, you either live or you die.”

Will has been sober ever since that day.

Benzo story - William Anderson
William is now sober and created a support group to help others

He created his own support group called “Oor Willie”, which now has over 1,700 members, and he trained with the Scottish Drugs Forum qualifying as an addiction support worker in August.

It was Rory’s passion for music and their drive to get back to playing with their band Kiosk that gave them the courage to bear through and taper off the benzos with the support of their family.

When I asked Rory and Will what they would say to young people considering self-medicating with benzos now, their response was the same.

“Drugs aren’t the answer.”