A bereaved parent is a strong voice for drug policy reform

Families are becoming a major force in drug policy reform: families of the incarcerated, families of victims of violence, and families who have lost loved ones to an overdose…

One of the leading figures in this new families movement is Anne-Marie Cockburn. Her 15-year-old daughter, Martha, died from an overdose of ecstasy. She ingested about half a gram of 91% pure MDMA at a party one night. Here’s Anne-Marie’s story:

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, Anyone’s Child is a project which consists of families who have been adversely affected by the drug laws. In the UK for the past year we’ve been meeting, we’ve been doing some media, we’ve been to Downing Street to hand in a letter to David Cameron to demand change, because our stories show how inadequate and outdated the current drug laws are. We can’t have this being something that becomes normalized. You know, there are 50 deaths in the UK every week at the moment, although the government don’t want you to know that. And when your 15 year old child dies, of having had easy access to dangerous drugs, as all children do, you know, you start to ask questions. You start to look for answers. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since, and I’ve been making it very difficult for politicians in the UK to stick to the party line and to continue to support prohibition, which never worked for alcohol and it does not work for drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: You’ve been working along with the folks at Transform —


DOUG MCVAY: — my friend Steve Rolles and all the rest, in preparing for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, the UNGASS. Talk to me about that.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, we know that it’s been brought forward four years because of the problems in South America particularly, you know, and I’m always saying to people here, if we don’t sort this out, that is our future. The plan is, we’re going to take families from different regions from across the world to UNGASS. We’re going to be standing outside there, with either pictures of our loved ones or their empty shoes, and we are going to make it very, very difficult for them, but we want to show them the human cost, because amongst policy, you can become very clinical and they can forget, you know, what is resulting in those laws. But we are there to show them, this is the true cost. Now, we don’t want our stories to become your stories, so you’ve got to sort something out now, you know, because, you know, it’s not good enough to be us.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific. Now, I think I’m ready to ask you about, about your book, about 5,742 Days.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, within a few hours of Martha dying, I got my laptop out and I needed to get out the agony that was in my head. I was clambering around trying to clear out the mess, having lost my only child a few hours previously, and I started to write, and I couldn’t stop. I wrote for three days without stopping for a break, and I wrote my diary of the first 102 days without her and it finished on what would have been her sixteenth birthday.

I’m very grateful for the book. It’s now being used in schools, it’s being used with parents and teenagers, it’s being used by bereavement counselors, and — yeah. It depicts a parent, a real-time account of the aftermath of losing their child and it shows you what was going on in my mind, and — yeah. There’s now a play of the book, in fact, and the play is called What Martha Did Next. So, that’s a wonderful byproduct of my sad story. So, I write to help myself, I write to keep myself company, I live by myself, I’m a single parent. And, by being able to write, I can try to make some sense of it, but I can also write for, you know, I’ve written for the Huffington Post and MumsNet, and by being able to do that I can communicate out to the world, to other families, normal families and so on, and say, please listen to my writing, please listen to what I’m saying, because I’m doing this, it’s a safety first approach to drug policy that I believe in. And, I want to save lives. I don’t want the world to lose another Martha.

Anne-Marie and the other parents/families are participating with civil society groups in preparation for the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. That meeting in New York City next year could be huge, provided it gets the coverage it deserves.

Doug McVay
Editor, Drug War Facts
Board Member, Common Sense for Drug Policy
Advisory Board Member, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Host/Producer, Century Of Lies
cel: 717.940.2154
twitter: @dougmcvay and @drugpolicyfacts
skype: dougmcvay

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
— Emma Lazarus

Updated: December 8, 2015 — 2:38 pm