‘My £1,000 a week drug habit almost killed me’

Jackie Burke.
Jackie Burke.

A Banbridge man who once had a £1,000 a week drug habit is continuing to use his “nightmare” experiences to warn others about the dangers of drugs.

Having gotten to grips with his own addictions after finding God more than two decades ago, Jackie Burke has dedicated himself to travelling around Ireland giving talks to secondary schoolchildren and youth groups.

For the last 16 years he’s been involved in counselling addicts and giving talks to young people. And he’s vowed to continue his mission for as long as he can.

Jackie’s descent into the murky world of abusing drugs began at a precociously young age, against a backdrop, not of poverty, neglect or abuse, but a loving, warm family environment.

He started smoking at the age of 11, was drinking alcohol at 13 and soon he was experimenting with illegal drugs such as cannabis and amphetamine.

At 16, he left home for a life of drug-filled abandon in London with a couple of friends, where he started experimenting with LSD and other substances - the start of what he describes as “a nightmare that was to last for many years.”

In today’s terms, Jackie was spending up to about £1,000 a week on drugs - and then came the drug dealing.

“The dealing grew and grew,” he explained. “We had runners who got drugs off us and then went out and sold them and brought the money back to us. But we weren’t in it solely for profitable reasons. We spent it as quickly as we got it.”

Over the years Jackie was imprisoned on five occasions, including spells in the notorious Pentonville Prison and Crumlin Road Gaol.

“The most I ever got in a sentence was six months, because the crimes that I was up for were always the same - forging prescriptions, which I stole from doctors’ surgeries, possession of drugs and an attempted robbery of an off-licence.”

He did try to kick his habit on many occasions and was in rehab seven times.

With the birth of his daughter Laura, Jackie decided he would ditch the drugs once and for all. However, when she was just 18 months old he walked out on her, his life spiralling out of control once again.

One night after taking an overdose of barbituates, Jackie says he experienced divine intervention.

“I can’t explain it but I know there was a presence of Christ,” the 63-year-old said. “He turned the pages of my memory. I knew I must be dying. I tried praying ‘Lord just help me and I’ll cut down on my drugs’.

“But God doesn’t do deals. There are no deals. The presence left, leaving only complete depression and emptiness and I knew I’d missed an opportunity that might never come again.”

But Jackie’s second chance did come, and he’s now been clean for more than 20 years. He’s dedicated himself to working to ensure that others don’t follow the same destructive path he did as a young man.

“I am going to keep doing my talks until the Lord brings me home or I can’t do it anymore,” he said.

l Read Helen McGurk’s full interview on pages 16 and 17