Get real

Losing her daughter to an accidental overdose made Anne-Marie Cockburn determined to campaign for the realistic drugs education that could have saved Martha. She spoke powerfully to a recent meeting of the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Parliamentary Group

Anne Marie

My 15-year-old daughter, Martha Fernback, died of an accidental overdose in 2013 after swallowing half a gram of MDMA powder that turned out to be 91 per cent pure. After her death, I found that she had been searching online for ways to do it safely – but sadly what she took in one go was enough for five to ten people. My naturally curious teenager wanted to get high; she didn’t want to die. No parent wants to think of their child taking drugs, but I’d choose high over dead any day.

I’ve been regularly visiting schools to have an open dialogue with 15 to 18-year-olds. When I asked a group of 19 Oxford students how many have been offered drugs, 18 hands went up; I then asked how many of them knew where to get drugs from and 19 hands went up. With each school I visit, this is the consistent picture and it worries me greatly. They comment that the schools just tell them not to do it, but that there is no advice or education on the alternatives – despite harm reduction being the most obvious and sensible one. I liken harm reduction education to age-appropriate sex education, which empowers young people and helps them to make more informed decisions. Harm reduction isn’t about being for or against drugs – it’s the responsible reaction based on what’s actually needed.

I remember searching on the Frank website when I found out Martha had taken ecstasy for the first time and it did nothing to quell my feelings of helplessness and inadequacy – it merely offered symptoms and possible reactions, rather than harm reduction. I therefore remained terrified as I couldn’t find good information to equip me with the answers based on the fact that the ‘just say no’ strategy wasn’t working for my child.

The divide between the easy access young people have to drugs and the inadequate education they receive is alarming. The dialogue I have with them shows me how genuinely baffled they are, due to so much misleading information and the stigma embedded within this subject. For some youngsters the easy access to drugs has, in part, normalised drug taking. They see their friends not dying from taking drugs and may have had a good experience on drugs. They tell me that drug taking isn’t always widespread at parties, but there’s always a handful who are partaking. They say that drug taking at gigs and music festivals is widespread and seems to go with the territory.

Parents and children need to know where they can access good, solid information that isn’t based on judgement or idealism.

Learn more about Anne-Marie’s campaign at