As overdose deaths hit record levels, drug and alcohol services face massive cuts

evin Jaffray had been addicted to heroin for 20 years when he finally sought help in prison. “I was in prison more than out. I’d been living in a tent in Bournemouth. I’d lost everything, I was broken. I was overdosing once or twice a week. I was dicing with death every day. Prison was a relief.”

He approached a Luton-based 12-step recovery organisation for help and spent 11 weeks in residential rehabilitation. “I’d got to the point where my body couldn’t take it any more. We had groups and individual therapy. They helped me with my health and criminal charges. I was living with old friends. They had got clean and it inspired me to change.”

This was back in 2006, when drug funding was at its height under the Blair government. Jaffray was accepted for treatment after a single phone call. Now clean for 11 years, Jaffray, 49, has rebuilt his life. He was employed as a drug worker in Bedford between 2008 and 2015 and now works for the national Naloxone Action Group as an advocate for Naloxone, a drug that reverses opiate overdoses.

He says he was “very lucky” to have been trying to get clean when he was. At one time, he’d been given just three months to live by his doctors.

By 2015, Jaffray says his caseload in Bedford had gone up to 60 people a fortnight compared to 20 people three years earlier. He said access to treatment had completely changed. “Only one or two people in each area was getting awarded the funding to go into rehab and a hell of a lot more people than that were requesting it.” That year, drugs deaths in England and Wales reached their highest levels since records began in 1993.

The UK is now officially the drugs overdose capital of Europe with almost one in three of the continent’s overdose deaths, mainly related to heroin and other opioids, according to the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction. Its 2016 annual report, published last week, which also aggregates data from Turkey and Norway, found the UK also had the highest proportion of heroin addicts. About eight in every 1,000 Britons are high-risk opioid users. Yet despite drug overdoses hitting record levels, an investigation by the Guardian has found that 11 local authorities in England, both those who were projected to cut most and least, have made average cuts of 17% between 2015-16 and 2016-17, more than £15m in total.

Full story in The Guardian, 15 June 2017