I am part of the National Expert Citizens Group (NECG). This is a group which draws people from all twelve Fulfilling Lives areas together to learn and try to influence on issues which are important to us. We all bring our own skills and expertise but the one thing that we have in common is that we all have lived experience of multiple needs.
On Friday 29th January we came together in Stoke-on-Trent to meet with Home Office representatives and Public Health England. On the agenda: The National Drug Strategy Review due to be published in March 2016.
We had the opportunity to provide first hand user experience of how drug services are performing. We also gave advice on what needs to be included in the drug strategy to ensure people with multiple and complex needs have the opportunity to see services improve. This felt like a huge step forward for the whole project.
Amongst the most important issues to us are housing and the unregulated dry house and supported housing system. We are concerned that dry house organisations can act detrimentally to the needs of people with substance misuse history. People are at risk of homelessness if they do not follow the rules of individual houses and there is very poor understanding of mental health issues. Many people in dry houses are made homeless because staff and the organisation do not have the right skills or do not want to provide support for people with dual diagnoses or multiple complex needs.
We raised further concerns about how people can “qualify” for services. Examples of people being turned away from services because they did not yet require a script with a high enough dosage was shocking. Early intervention would be beneficial, telling someone to go away and come back when their dependence has got stronger is potentially a death sentence and at best playing Russian Roulette with their chances when their drug of choice is crack or heroine.
We then discussed the lack of support for those that remain abstinent and the gap in support required moving on from the dry house system to fulfilling lives and self sustainability. The current system can treat people like products in a product cycle which almost encourages relapse every two years or so and the person has to start the dry-house process again, remaining in a cycle without support to complete their recovery and move on to a working life.
It was great for me to hear my colleagues in the group talk about some social enterprise ideas where people find employment and establish fulfilling lives, for example building and decorating services in Blackpool. Although this is still a rarity it could provide evidence that these projects would help prevent relapse if they were given support and publicity.
The home office has promised to provide us at the NECG with a copy of the National Drugs Strategy Review with marked up sections highlighting where the day’s discussions have led to changes in the review and to show directly how we are starting to influence Government and Home Office thinking.