Monday, 5 February 2018

A New Approach?

This Thursday 8th February I will be attending a meeting in the Maldron Hotel in Derry the focus of which will be on drugs and the growing addiction crisis in this city and beyond. This event will be hosted by the Strabane based AYE project which is a youth engagement project aimed at helping to overcome barriers to social inclusion, education, employment & training.

The event panel will include renowned Community Rights Activist Father Peter McVerry who since his ordination in 1974 has been working with youths in Dublin’s north inner city. Father Peter McVerry is the founder of the Peter McVerry Trust a charity established to help reduce homelessness and the harm caused by drug misuse and social disadvantage. Key elements of the Trust’s work include a Residential Detox Service, daytime stabilisation and recovery services and aftercare accommodation services at four separate locations in Dublin.

If we compare the above service provision in Dublin to the services available in the North we can see serious disparity. In a bid to address this disparity locally Derry and Strabane District Council presented a proposal for a ‘Crisis Intervention Service’ which with all due respect to them doesn’t even the scratch the surface of what is required.

On Thursday 7th July 2017, at a meeting of Derry and Strabane District Council’s Health and Community Committee it was agreed that Council would initiate an open procurement process to advance the establishment of a Community Crisis Intervention Service in the city. An ‘open procurement process for a low threshold responsive Community Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS) over a six-month period.’

This proposed service was to be ‘a timely non-clinical community response to individuals experiencing social, emotional or situational crisis over the weekend period. And would be the subject of an ‘on-going evaluation’, via the Ulster University, Magee.

In the event of a positive evaluation the various agencies set to benefit from the service (according to the Council document) such as the PSNI and Emergency Services would ‘be required to commit funding on the basis of a co- design Community Plan approach should the initial evaluation determine an extension of or development of a long-term service is required’. Yet whether or not an agreement was made with these agencies remains unknown.

This project had a budget of £50,000. £40,000 from Council and £10,000 from the Western Health and Social Care Trust. A key question is why this became the responsibility of our local council when this is clearly the remit of the Health Department under the devolved assembly?

It would be foolish to deny there is a ‘recreational‘ drugs culture as well as problematic drug/substance abuse however, we cannot overlook contributing risk factors such as high unemployment, poverty, poor housing and high deprivation as contributing factors. Ideally, as well as having a service to support those in crisis, the risk factors that influence addiction, mental health & wellbeing need to be included somewhere in the equation to address this in a holistic context. Central to this is a properly resourced joined-up partnership approach, after all it is said there is ‘no health, without mental health’.

Figures published in the Belfast Telegraph in December 19th, 2017 show that the North of Ireland has the highest rate of suicide in the UK yet in comparison to other areas the funds are 25% lower. Figures show that in 2016 221 men and 76 women completed suicide. As I’ve pointed out previously this is the equivalent of a plane crash each year with the figures from 2015 showing a higher figure of 318 deaths. If a plane was to crash each year in the North, there would be a robust investigation to determine the causes and to prevent it yet sadly despite the high-levels of suicide, mental health funding remains the lowest in the UK. And although the published figures do not explore the underlying contributing factors the impact of substance abuse must be included.

I would hope Thursday nights event may spark a positive debate on avenues which could be explored in how we address a range of factors surrounding this emotive issue.

In an article published in the Derry News yesterday Father McVerry states that ‘the most effective response to drug use is communication, communication and more communication.’ Which is something I agree with, quite simply if we want to find out the reason for someone using drugs the question needs to be asked in an open manner. This type of approach can help the design and implementation of appropriate interventions and support services allowing for the targeting of resources.

Another interesting comment made by Father McVerry is that it is counter-productive to give ‘young people a criminal record for possession of drugs it only makes rehabilitation more difficult, marginalises them further from society and makes it more likely they will continue to use drugs.’ This is something which again is an interesting approach and I can see some merit in, however in what context it would apply and what the threshold would be is something that should spark a broad conversation.

This is going to be an interesting event.

Hope to see you there.x

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