I Wish I'd Known - Fiona's book for parents & carers

The story of the book

In 2020 when Covid19 hit, the world shut down, and the busyness of the Foundation took a quieter turn, Fiona Spargo-Mabbs began writing a book for parents, the book she wishes she’d been able to read before her son Dan died. Hence the title, I Wish I’d Known. The concept was to recreate a parents’ workshop in a book, and the passionate commitment that drove it all, is what drives all that the Foundation exists to achieve: to prevent any other parent going through anything even the tiniest bit similar.


I Wish I’d Known interweaves the story of one family’s terrible loss with calm, measured and practical advice for parents, drawing on the most recent research and evidence. It explores the risks posed by drugs and alcohol, including legal risks and consequences. It provides practical advice for saying safe and information on reducing harm. It also explains the way the adolescent brain makes decisions, and provides strategies to help your children manage risk – and the influence of friends – at a time of life when this is most tricky. It considers what makes conversations work best at home, how to approach these if you have concerns, and where to go for more information and support.


There are ‘talking points’ throughout the book, with suggestions for things for parents and their children to do, talk about, look at, look up or consider. 


“A life lost to drugs is a loss like no other. Throughout the book, Daniel’s story – his life, his death and what happened afterwards – not only provides a compelling reminder of the importance of those conversations, but also serves as an unforgettable eulogy to a son, brother, boyfriend and friend whose legacy continues to touch, and perhaps even save, the lives of other young people.” Sheldon Press



Gabby Logan about the impact that a DSMF talk had on her daughter and her thanks to Fiona for writing I Wish I’d Known:

Victoria Derbyshire on her admiration and respect for Fiona and for the profound and practical information within I Wish I’d Known:

Dr Suzi Gage on the importance of this evidence-based book to all parents:


Young people’s use of illegal drugs is on the rise, supply is plentiful, ways of obtaining drugs numerous, purity is higher, but the contaminants are often risky – it is a complex and worrying picture.  This book paints the landscape in a very accessible way – any parent or carer will be better informed and wiser after reading it.   Everything is covered, from the types of drug, the context for young people, to how they make decisions and manage risk,  how conversations can be approached and managed, strategies for keeping your child as safe as possible, and lots of places where information, advice and support can be found. 

The book is not always an easy read, but I believe that it can help a parent/carer never have to say, as the author Fiona did, “I wish I had known these things”.

Prof Dame Carol Black DBE, FRCP, BSD

Government advisor, author of government-commissioned independent review of drugs 2020-21; former principle of Newnham College, Cambridge (to 2019)

This is an incredibly powerful and also very practical book from a mum who’s been through the most harrowing of experiences. After losing her teenage son to MDMA,  Fiona’s guide on how to talk to your child about drugs - both legal and illegal - is vital for any parent. She wants to make sure no mum or dad ever has to go through what she went through. This book is a must-read.

Well done Fiona, your book is going to help SO many people.

Victoria Derbyshire

Journalist, newsreader and broadcaster

This is such an important book for parents especially those who like me might have little or no experience of drugs, we need to be realistic about what our children are facing. Fiona has use her devastatingly sad experience with Daniel to help all of us and this book should be essential reading for parents of teenagers.

Gabby Logan

Presenter and writer

This is a powerful and important book that anyone with teenagers in their lives would benefit from reading. It is beautifully and poignantly written, and packed full of suggestions about how to speak to young people about drugs. The use of scientific evidence and statistics is particularly valuable. I learned a huge amount and would recommend this book to every parent I know.

Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore FBA, FRSB

Professor of Psychology, University of Cambridge; leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group Author of ‘Inventing ourselves: The secret life of the adolescent brain’ (Doubleday, 2018)

This is an important book; important because of the breadth and thoroughness of the research which has gone into its making and the relevance and quality of the information about drugs which it provides. More critically, however, it is important because it speaks to every parent – and every parents’ hopes and fears for a beloved child. This book explains how such a tragic but sadly all too familiar scenario could come about; it explores the prevalence, nature and appeal of drugs to young people and the ‘business’ drivers behind the drugs industry. Factual information is woven through the unfolding story of Dan’s life, thus personalising and humanising the story. Its greatest gift, however, is the message to TALK – and the ‘talking points’ open the door to conversations which can, quite literally, save lives of other beloved children. It is a testament to parental love, and a resource of tremendous importance for all those who care about young people. 

Lady Kate Cayley

Deputy Head Boarding, Marlborough College

Fiona has taken the tragedy of Dan’s death as a motivation to help other families, as much as possible, avoid the same thing.  This book tells their family’s personal and heart-breaking story with great honesty and vulnerability.  But it does much more than that.  It’s full of evidence-based practical wisdom:  how to talk with your child about drugs and alcohol; facts about different drugs; the role brain development plays in risk-taking and making decisions, and where to go for help and support.

In the fast-changing world in which we live, it is crucial to have an understanding of the challenges that may face our children – and us as their parents – further down the road. I Wish I’d Known is a vital read if you have teenagers, but I would urge you to read it whatever age your children are.

Rob Parsons OBE

Founder and Chairman, Care for the Family

This may be a life saving book. Deeply personal and moving, yet packed with relatable, practical and expert information and advice, “I Wish I’d Known” is an invaluable guide for parents in supporting children to make safer choices about drugs and alcohol. Fiona Spargo-Mabbs writes with honesty and compassion about her own grief and loss following her son Dan’s death, and in sharing his story gives a gift to other families to help them navigate these complex issues. 

This is a balanced and discerning book, showing empathy with parents as well as real understanding of young people and the many different factors that may influence their choices and experiences. Here you will find suggestions for how to talk to young people about drugs, details about drug effects and risks, advice for reducing harm, and many useful references and resources to find out more. 

Every parent should read it.

Laura Bunt

Deputy CEO, We Are With You

It's absolutely fantastic. By no means an easy read, (I did have to keep putting it down and going for a walk and coming back to it), but it is an incredibly powerful and important one. I can't imagine what it must have been like to write it. But in amongst the heartbreaking story about Dan, the information, advice and evidence you provide is meticulously researched, and presented in such a clear way. At no point does the book feel heavy handed or judgmental, and it navigates every parents' worst nightmare without scaremongering. Every parent of a pre-teen should read this, because it's not a frightening message, it's empowering, and a message of hope.

Dr Suzi Gage

Lecturer in Psychology and Epidemiology, Liverpool University Author of ‘Say Why to Drugs’ (Hodder, 2020) and popular Say Why to Drugs podcasts.

Dan’s story is interwoven with well- researched information and helpful ‘talking points’ in this beautifully written account of a personal journey through the loss of a son from a drug overdose. The book provides a valuable resource of factual detail about drugs and alcohol, how to communicate with young people, and where to find support and more information. It is a must for parents, those working with young people and young people themselves.

Prof Betsy Thom

Professor of Health Policy and Co-Director Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Middlesex University, London, UK

Dan's beautiful, intelligent, witty, big-hearted character is the golden thread in ‘I Wish I'd Known’. There are excellent practical, achievable ideas for parents and professionals: how to create compassionate, effective, non-judgemental conversations with young people about preventing and reducing harm; clear summaries of the science of the teenage brain, risk and reward and the effects and risks of drugs; and accurate information on how to secure help and support for young people and to respond in an emergency.  There are also personal testimonies and insights into the legal and medical systems that make for painful but essential reading for anyone concerned about young people’s drug use. The further reading is particularly helpful and testament to the courage and generosity of the author. 

Emma Crawshaw

CEO, Crew2000

Drugs and sex are amongst the most important yet most difficult conversations for parents to have with their children yet families can be a vital source of support, comfort and guidance through the youth and young adult years of increased partying, experimentation and independence. This book helps families to chart that territory together equipped with knowledge as well as love and to arrive safely in adulthood together.

Prof Fiona Measham

Chair in Criminology, University of Liverpool & Director of the Loop

Fiona’s story is heartbreaking, but her honesty and generosity in telling it will undoubtedly prevent other parents from finding themselves in a similar situation.  This book is an absolute must for any parent wanting to have a meaningful conversation with their children about drugs.

Alicia Drummond

CEO, Teen Tips

What an ambitious and important work. Moving, informative, honest and practical. Knowledge is power and this book empowers parents to support their children around all the complex issues that can lead to drug harms. I like your constant assertion that drug and alcohol use is not necessarily a social norm for most young people, though it can be presented as that.  In describing your lovely son, I also appreciate your exposition of him as ordinary yet also extraordinary, special and unique, and deserving of empathy, compassion and understanding. What a terrible journey you and your family have had, but Dan would be proud of you today. 

Dr Eric Carlin

Director, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

This is an enlightening, informative and incredibly practical book about drugs and young people, interwoven with an intensely poignant and personal tale of grief and loss. A book that educates as much as it moves, it is essential reading that deserves to be read far and wide, by parents and professionals alike.

Ronny Cheung

Consultant in General Paediatrics, Joint Head of Service, General Paediatrics, Evelina London Children’s Hospital Chair, Child Death Review Programme, Healthy London Partnership

A vital book which has the power to prevent tragic drug related deaths among young people. The book provides an ideal tool for parents to start meaningful conversations with young people and provides the necessary information to make this an informed, positive and production interaction. The way in which the book is written, interweaving Daniel's story with clear evidence-based advice on creating conversations with young people makes it both exceptionally readable and enlightening. A must read for any parent.

Paul North

Director, Volteface

This book written in memory of Fiona’s son Dan is going to save so many young lives because it is vital reading for the nation’s future education of young people, their parents and teachers. Fiona has reached out to everyone who cares for a child or young person to educate us about the conversations which must be had to support our young people to make safer choices and to help them understand that one action not thought through can lead to tragedy. I wish ‘I wish I’d known’ was there when my late son was a teenager because I would have had those conversations with him. Thank you, Fiona, for all you are doing to change the course of history with your book.

Elizabeth Burton Phillips MBE

Founder of DrugFAM; author of ‘Mum, can you lend me twenty quid? What drugs did to my family’ (2008)

This book about Daniel’s life is compelling in every aspect. The facts are accurate and written in an accessible way. The story is necessarily acute but warmly and compassionately delivered. The narrative is also exceptionally well crafted, written in a style that is both accessible yet profound. However. it is the insight into the 'lives lived experience' that makes this essential reading for every parent, doctor, teenager, magistrate and counsellor. 

This book is unique and will transform many of the lives of its readers. 

Prof Janusz Jankowski

Chair of Board, Dean Elect of Medicine, Physician, Magistrate, National Adviser, N.E.D

This book is a very significant achievement, it covers a lot of ground beyond your personal experience and I learnt a lot from it.  It covers a massive range of issues, a reminder of how complex (and wonderful) teenagers are. Your story and experience is very powerful and there are also sections on mental health, common drugs, alcohol, harm reduction, judicial process, court experience, sexual consent, drink driving, online safety, drug driving, teenage development, decision making, how to have awkward conversations, festival safety tips, general safety tips, how to organise a safer party for teenagers, international drug laws, first aid.

David Mackintosh

Consultant, Global Public Health Network; former Director London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum and Head of Community Safety, City of London

There are very few available resources and I’m sure the book will be very helpful to parents, and also I think to teachers - although its written for parents, it provides so many useful starting points for classroom discussion. It is so well researched and clearly written in an informative and non-judgmental style.

Viv Evans OBE

CEO, Adfam

A young people's perspective

Three of our Youth Ambassadors at Epsom College chat with Fiona about the importance of I Wish I’d Known to them and their parents:


Book club and reading resources

Click here to see information to help you read and discuss the book - with questions and links for each chapter, a book club guide and information about parent ambassadors.

A parents' and teacher's perspective

Andy, Sarah and Danielle speak with DSMF Drugs Educator Asha Fowells about their reflections on I Wish I’d Known:

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