This was a programme that was quite unique for several reasons; first, because the primary footage was filmed by Ben himself in a series of video diaries that documented his battle with heroin addiction. Second, Ben never tried to make excuses for himself or his behaviour and he always seemed to want to get off the drug and third, there was no mention throughout that Ben had ever done anything criminal to get money for drugs. If he did, as I say, it wasn’t mentioned in the footage but in every other documentary about heroin addiction, crime has featured large as a means to pay for the drug.
Ben Rogers was a bright, caring man from a loving middle-class family. Brought up in a quiet, picturesque Staffordshire village, Ben was a boy Scout, loved cricket, rode ponies, played in the school orchestra and looked forward to the annual family camping holiday in France. But despite his privileged and happy start in life, Ben found himself on the road to ruin and was transformed into a junkie, injecting heroin up to four times a day.
Ravaged by the killer drug, by age 32, Ben’s body began to break down and he developed DVT – deep vein thrombosis – a potentially deadly condition where blood clots form. His veins were rendered so useless by his constant injecting that he had to inject directly into his groin.
Despite his family’s best efforts to help, love and support him, Ben couldn’t stop taking heroin. He was haunted by – and hooked on – it and his loving family had to try to live with the Ben they loved as well as Ben the addict. They would continue to sacrifice so much for Ben that, as is often the case with heroin addiction, Ben was by no means the only victim, nor was he the only one who suffered.
Eventually, rocked by the revelation that his father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ben was more determined than ever to put his 15 year addiction to rest but sadly, it was to be that desperate attempt at withdrawal that was to cost him his life.
“I want you to be proud of me for once in my life and not just think of me as a s***head junkie, f***ing alcoholic piece of f***ing crap, because I’m not, I promise.” He told his father via a video diary entry. However, while attempting to detox in hospital in 2006 aged 34, Ben died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage. In a cruelly ironic twist, Ben’s final attempt to battle his drug demon delivered the fatal blow.
Ben had begun filming early in 2005 and his video diaries covered the entirety of his life; his family, friends and of course, his addiction.
His friend Matt remarked that Ben had once said to him, “I never thought I would get addicted to heroin” but, like all heroin users, he did and then fought for years to get out of the vicious cycle of addiction.
Ben’s video diaries were moving, sad, disturbingly graphic and showed how desperately Ben wanted to stop using and how much he resented what heroin was doing not just to him, but to everyone around him. We saw a lot of footage of Ben injecting himself and subsequently passing out. We saw him cry from the sheer frustration of the cycle he was in and from the realisation that he was hurting so many of the people who loved him the most.
At age 25, Ben worked full time in a film studio in London as a runner, a job which he loved, but as it transpired, not even this was enough to make him kick the addiction. He kept the job for 3 years and his family constantly hoped that it would signal an end to his heroin use, but it was not to be and he lost the job due to the effects of his addiction. By the time he was 30, Ben was injecting four times a day and by the time he was 32, he was diagnosed with DVT as previously mentioned and went to live back at home with his parents.
He struggled to cope with living with his parents again – and they with him – and he couldn’t make enough money to fuel his habit. His friends were shocked to see Ben again after his absence because by then, the addiction had ravaged him and made him look haggard and old. He drank heavily, was skinny and as one friend remarked, “He looked like a heroin addict”.
Ben became like a “special needs” child to his parents because he couldn’t be left alone at any time. His unconscious states after injecting left him vulnerable and his family feared what could happen to him if he was left on his own. They twice paid for rehab for Ben but it didn’t work. However, after a few weeks at home, Ben decided to go ‘cold-turkey’. This meant that he had to go for 5 days without drugs in order to get on an NHS detox program so his parents locked him in the house to stop him going out to score. However, he jumped out of a bedroom window on the third day to get drugs and was soon back on heroin full time.
In a very sad diary entry, his mother wept openly and railed at Ben as he once again tried to convince her that he wanted to get off drugs. She explained too that because of the demands Ben made on them for money, Mike hadn’t been able to retire and in effect, they’d sacrificed their retirement for Ben. His father had even – unbeknown to other family members – taken Ben to dealers to pick up drugs from them. Mike was a very quiet and gentle man and it must have taken a great deal for him to do that.
Ben’s sisters Sarah and Stephanie talked about how family gatherings, such as Christmas, were an agony and everyone was anxious that there would be “Ben issues”. His mother commented that people had told her addicts have to want to stop and others had said they must get to the lowest point they can go before they’ll turn things around. She said that he did want desperately to stop and he had got to the lowest point he could go; living rough and begging, yet it still wasn’t enough to enable him to stop.
Mike was then diagnosed with cancer and in an effort to stop taking heroin for his dad’s sake, Ben decided to go under his own steam to a rehab clinic and made a final video diary in which he angrily sobbed and railed about his situation and his life. He said repeatedly that he thought he was dying; he was in pain all the time, felt sick and was vomiting blood. On camera, he told his family he was sorry for everything he’d done and asked God to forgive him his sins. It was to be horribly prophetic because just days later, Ben was dead.
The day after making that video diary, Ben checked into a rehab unit at his local hospital and 24 hours later, he died of a brain haemorrhage caused by his withdrawal. His father, Mike, died just 9 weeks later.
This was a desperately sad but very insightful and intelligent documentary that showed in awful detail how an average family can be devastated by this evil drug. This bright young man was lost; his mother lost both a son and a husband and indeed, the whole family lost two people who should have lived longer and better.
Ben wasn’t responsible for his father’s illness of course but the fact is, his mum and dad could, and should, have enjoyed their last few years together without the terrible emotional and financial burden of a heroin addicted child. Ben should have been married, having a good career and maybe a family of his own but instead, he got only half the years he could have expected and they were mostly miserable years.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon story and it’s a drama that’s playing out in the lives of thousands of Britons every year, but it is a desperately sad one I wept for Ben and his very lovely family. What a lucky man he was to have had them because otherwise, his short life would have been so much worse.