Mother describes how one of her twins turned his life around after heroin killed his brother

“You have choices in life and you sink and swim and as a family we choose to swim.”

ELIZABETH BURTON-PHILLIPS says she and her family had a “very normal, happy life” before drugs crept into their world.

Phillips gave birth to twin boys Nick and Simon on November 19 1976.

Picture mum nick and simon

She was working as the department head in one of the leading girl schools in the UK when her identical twin boys were suspended from school after they got caught smoking.

The former teacher told that at that time she was shocked by the news. However, that was only the beginning of the twins’ journey.

Simon and Nick began smoking cigarettes when they started secondary school, but soon they tried cannabis and continued experimenting with different drugs until they were both using heroin.

unnamed Nick and Simon in the grip of addiction

Phillips has spoken about how the family remortgaged their house three times to pay drug dealers for their sons.

In February 2004, Nick hanged himself after a drug-fueled argument with his brother. He was aged just 27.

Box of Needles found next  to nicks body Needles found next to Nick's body

Phillips wrote a book about her experience and it has now been brought to the stage.

She told ”It’s a very powerful portrayal of what happens when someone in the family gets addicted to drugs.”

She said the play is “to promote education and the dangers of getting involved in drugs but also that recovery is possible”.

last birthday together 19th Nov 2003 aged 27 in early recovery (1) This photo was taken on the twins 27th birthday when they were in early recovery. However, it was the last birthday they had together.


Her other son Simon vowed to change his ways following the death of his brother and over the past 11 years he has turned his life around and is now a husband and father of four with a full time job.

Philips says she now sees Nick alive in Simon.

This is Simon but I see Nick alive in him today Simon

Elizabeth said she goes to every production of the play and can still get upset as it brings back painful memories:

Very recently we did an update and included a song that’s dedicated to Simon’s memory of his brother, we have footage of when they were younger, it’s a great treasure to have.

The play has been performed over 100 times in the UK and will be in Dublin next week.

“I go because I think it’s very important whether we’re in schools or prisons or wherever, that people relate the drama to real people and they see the mother.

It really isn’t about us anymore, it’s about other people.

The book, ‘Mum can you lend me twenty quid: What drugs did to my family‘, has been translated into seven languages, and has 65,000 readers in the UK alone since it was published in 2007.

Photography by Ruth Medjber // Ruth Medjber Ruth Medjber


Phillips said that in her experience: “The biggest gateway drug is a cigarette. It started with a cigarette, that leads to opportunities to take cannabis and so on.

imaging nick mills Nick in his school uniform

“It’s really important that people are aware of the reality, addiction can get anyone from any background, if it can happen to me as a teacher, it can happen to anyone.

We didn’t think it would happen to us, but it did and it can.

“There is still a stigma around the disease of addiction, but it’s not about somebody who lives in a poor estate, it can happen to anybody.”

Picture after drugs 10th Anniversary appeal

When asked what sort of advice she gives parents, Phillips says, “Good communication from an early age, particularly parents of children in fee-paying schools.

“The schools can’t protect from these problems, and the children can at times be in a prime position to be groomed by drug dealers because they may have more money.”

She added that the book “tells the truth and nothing is hidden”.

You have choices in life and you sink or swim and as a family we choose to swim.

In memoriam Nicholas Mills 10 yeears on

Commenting on the death of people in the public eye such as Peaches Geldof, Philips said, “It can be the end of the journey for anybody who gets involved with a class A drug.

It’s absolutely tragic to see young people go down that route, it’s the power of the addiction, you can’t control it, it controls you.

Elizabeth founded DrugFAM in 2006 to raise awareness of local and national supports for families affected by addiction.

Mum, can you lend me twenty quid? What drugs did to my family’ is on in The Music Room Christchurch Cathedral Dublin 8 on Wednesday October 28 at 4pm and 8pm. 

Read: How America’s ‘heroin city’ is turning itself around>

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