Paul James, an ex-international footballer originally from Cardiff, announced in January 2017 that he would be deliberately starving himself in protest at the way people with drug issues, such as crack cocaine addiction, are treated in Canada.

A Descent into Crack Cocaine Addiction

Paul, aged fifty-three, was born in Cardiff but became a Canadian citizen in 1983. He played football for the Canadian team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and the Mexico World Cup of 1986. His last appearance in international football was in 1993 at the age of twenty-nine. He went on to coach football at the top level in both Canada and London, as well as working as a TV football analyst and writing for a newspaper. All while secretly maintaining an addiction to crack cocaine.

His first encounter with crack cocaine was after a night out drinking in 1998; he had never taken it before that one encounter. Within ten years, he was using the drug every day, a reminder of just how addictive crack cocaine is. Rather unusually, he describes those ten years of his substance abuse as “the most successful period of my professional life and financial stability”, an indication of how well James managed to hide his drug use.

What Was Being Addicted to Crack Cocaine Like for James?

James was using crack cocaine every day, but he remained very careful about being caught. As a result, he found himself in some less-than-safe locations in his search for the drug he craved.

In one memory, he talked about getting his ‘fix’ after watching a match between England and Argentina at Wembley. James said that he knew he was going to use crack cocaine, and that he was ‘hours away from using’. He also stated that the person he was there with had no idea about his addiction to crack cocaine. After the match, he left for Kings Cross Station, but instead of going back to his hotel, as he knew he should have done, he found himself in a crack den. He said, “Because I was always so paranoid about being found out, I would end up in these houses and go on sessions”. At the end of that night, he was told he had to pay for being there, was taken to a cash machine and forced to hand over money.

On another occasion, this time in the city of Saskatoon in Canada, he found himself in a similar situation. While in a 7/11 store, he felt a craving for the drug that he could not ignore, and after asking someone ended up in another crack den. This time, as he paid for the drugs he had used, he was mugged at knifepoint.

In 2001, in Toronto, he actually sustained injuries after his drug use. Not knowing fully what had happened to him, he found himself stumbling out into the street at five o’clock in the morning, covered in blood and with a number of cuts to his face. He took a taxi to his sister’s house for help, telling her he had ‘walked into a wall’. He needed seventeen stitches.

Despite all these ‘eventful’ situations, James somehow managed to keep his addiction hidden, and his coaching career was going well.

Why Paul James is on Hunger Strike

In 2008, while he was working at York University as a successful and respected football coach, James decided that he needed to confront his addiction. He informed his colleagues at the University of his mental health issues, including drug addiction and depression, and requested three months leave of absence to go to rehab and recovery. His leave of absence was granted, but when he returned he found that he had been replaced. After some dispute with the University over his position, James resigned and has been unable to find work ever since.

Now aged fifty-three, unemployed and homeless, James maintains that he has been discriminated against due to his mental health problems and because he opened up about his crack cocaine addiction.  In January, he posted a video of himself online, addressing the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. In the video, he gave the reasons for his hunger strike, saying that those who suffer from drug problems should be ‘treated with dignity and the respect and quality and the fairness we deserve’.

He began what he describes as his final hunger strike on the fifteenth of March, saying “It is in protest to the extreme injustice and abuse I have faced over the past eight years living as a Canadian citizen trying to live as a normal person with a mental disability.”

How Can Crack Cocaine Addicts in The UK Find Help?

Paul James struggled to find the help and support that he needed, but that does not have to be the case for those in the UK who are trying to cope with crack cocaine addiction. At Addiction Helper, we can help individuals to find the right support and treatment for their situation, without any stigma or judgement being involved.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to crack cocaine, please call us today to find the help and support you need.

Sources: (Wales Online) The Welsh footballer who lived secret life as crack addict while working as coach
(Paul James) Confronting the Stigma of Drug Addiction