Opinion

I had no idea what chemsex was until my son's death. I want to help other parents avoid heartbreak

A parent shares their tragic story in the hope it will help others

Image: (c) 2021 fran_kie/Shutterstock.

Malik was 27 when he died. Malik was my son.

It was a Monday – 25 October, 2021 – when we realised that Malik was missing. My
youngest son, Malik’s brother, called me to say that Malik hadn’t shown up to work, his partner
didn’t know where he was, and he wasn’t answering his phone. All of this was totally out of
character for Malik – he was a responsible young man, he and his partner had lived together for
about eight years.

I started phoning hospitals – trying to see if there was any record of him having been admitted to
A&E – but there was nothing.

Later that night, we were notified that Malik’s body had been found. My son was dead.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Since that moment, for over two years, we’ve been trying to piece together what happened –
we’ve been trying to understand what happened to Malik.

The police launched an investigation and slowly we began to get a sense of the timeline of events and the people involved.

Malik was an artist, and he worked full-time at a gallery in London. On Saturday 23 October, Malik told a colleague at the gallery that after work he was going to meet someone for a drink. Later that evening, he was at home at his house in Hendon. He spoke on the phone with his partner, who was away for the weekend. Everything seemed fine – it was late, Malik said he was going to bed.

But he didn’t go to bed. Just before midnight, Malik left his home and took a cab to a flat in
Southgate. It was at this flat where Malik died.

The guy that lived at this flat wasn’t some random hook-up, it turns out that Malik had known
this person for at least five years. He was in his 50s – twice Malik’s age. It’s not clear what the
relationship was between Malik and this person, but one thing that they had in common was
drugs and sex. It seems as if this was a part of his life that Malik kept hidden from everyone that
knew him and cared for him.

It doesn’t appear that Malik was using chems on a regular basis, but the messages on his
phone indicated that Malik and this guy had planned to get together this weekend, had bought
drugs together – they bought crystal meth – and were actively looking for other guys to join them
for a chemsex session.

I had no idea that Malik was using drugs. I had no idea what chemsex was.

Image: kunanon/Shutterstock.

Through the police investigation, we found out that Malik had been receiving counselling to help
control what I now know is described as chemsex – the combination of specific drugs and sex.

Malik disclosed in counselling that he had a feeling of repressed sexuality from an early age as
there was no one to discuss it with. He also disclosed that he felt a lack of confidence when
having sex without drugs.

There’s a lot that we don’t know about what happened at the flat in Southgate on the weekend
that Malik died. We know at least one other guy came over, we know that drugs were taken, but
there’s a lot that still doesn’t make sense to me.

The police interviewed the guy who lived at the flat – the guy that Malik had known for five years
but they didn’t seem to be able to get much information out of him. They noted that he seemed
heavily intoxicated. It was at 5pm on Monday 25 October when he called the ambulance,
saying that Malik wasn’t breathing. When the emergency services got to the flat, they
determined that Malik had died around 17 hours before they had been called.

The pathology report confirmed that it was the meth amphetamine that Malik had in his system
that had caused his death – the acute toxic effects of the drug caused his organs to malfunction.

Syringes were found at the flat but we don’t know why Malik would have taken such a high dose
of meth. We also don’t have a clear picture of what help he received when things started going
wrong. The guy whose flat it was told the police that Malik was feeling unwell so they put him in
the bath. There’s a mobile record of an earlier call to 999, but the emergency services don’t
have any record of having received that call. When the ambulance eventually got to Malik, it
was already too late – it was 17 hours too late.

It took over two years for the police to complete their investigation of Malik’s death. The main
delay seemed to be getting access to Malik’s phone records, but I found it incredibly frustrating
that there was no sense of urgency in finding out what had happened to my son. I had to lodge
a formal complaint, I had to raise my concerns with senior officials within the police force and
the mayor’s office, just to try and get answers.

Once the police had concluded their investigation, the coroner could then conduct an inquest
into Malik’s death. This began in December 2023 and finished in February 2024 – the coroner’s
report concluded that it was an accidental death.

I contacted the team at Controlling Chemsex to try and find out if Malik had contacted them
asking for help. I learned that it’s surprisingly common for gay men to be struggling with issues
surrounding chemsex.

Having to relive it all through the coroner’s inquest, I felt devastated that my son had died in this
way – that no one was looking after him when he needed help, that no one was caring. It felt as
if he had been abandoned, isolated when he had so many people in his life that loved him.

It was also heartbreaking to learn about this double-life that Malik had been leading – the
concealment and the subterfuge. He had compartmentalised his use of chems, convincing
himself that he knew what he was doing, that he was in control, when it seems that he wasn’t.

I’m not judgemental about his chemsex encounters – your 20s are a time for experimentation –
but he’s been cut down in his prime, his whole life was ahead of him. Malik had everything to
live for, he had so much potential. His death has left us devastated.

I’m angry about the way that the police managed their investigation of Malik’s death. It felt as if
they’d decided that he wasn’t worthy of the resources it required to properly investigate what
had happened. We’re ordinary people. It seemed that the police felt that they could ignore us –
that this was just another young gay guy doing too many drugs. Malik deserved better than that,
everyone does.

I wish that Malik hadn’t felt the need to conceal his problems from us – perhaps if he hadn’t had
to hide his use of chems, we could have helped him with whatever he was struggling with, we
could have helped to keep him safe.

I guess that’s why I want to share Malik’s story. I don’t want other parents to have to learn about
chemsex the way that I have. Don’t let the people you love feel isolated or alone – whatever they
might be struggling with, help is available.

Free and confidential chemsex support is available to help you take back control. Contact
Controlling Chemsex for one-to-one advice and guidance, or check out the resources of the
Global Chemsex Toolbox
.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
If Rishi Sunak is so keen on our national identity, why is this British icon up for sale?
Paul McNamee

If Rishi Sunak is so keen on our national identity, why is this British icon up for sale?

Stacey Solomon is not afraid of having a go. She even makes DIY look easy
Lucy Sweet

Stacey Solomon is not afraid of having a go. She even makes DIY look easy

How the Northern Ballet's empty orchestra pit perfectly sums up UK's arts crisis 
Naomi Pohl

How the Northern Ballet's empty orchestra pit perfectly sums up UK's arts crisis 

Tories won't let the UN investigate rise of food banks in UK. Labour must welcome them
Philip Alston UN investigates poverty, food poverty and food banks
Alex Firth

Tories won't let the UN investigate rise of food banks in UK. Labour must welcome them

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know