Harm Reduction: The Only Show in town
If you turn to the recent issue of the Parliamentary Review (click here) you might recognise the organisation featured on pages 26,27 and 28!
Reading through the whole magazine the most striking things (with the exception of the introduction by Liz Truss which misses the mark by so far it’s almost comedic) are the article around the lack of parity between the NHS and Social Care and the impact of austerity on vulnerable people. All of the articles detail how much the health and social care system is propped up by fantastic small and medium sized charities, delivering complex and much needed services. In this time of responding to COVID parity for social care has never been more important alongside the safety net the voluntary and Community Sector provides. This is especially pertinent in today’s news and questions around the impact COVID is having on vulnerable people in Care Homes.
When I wrote this article, what seems like a decade ago, it was calling for significant policy change around drug use and harm reduction services. Three asks about ensuring harm reduction was central to our drugs policy, a genuine end to austerity and a refocus on drugs as a health issue not a criminal justice one.
The need for harm reduction now is greater than ever, alcohol use has increased by 22% a report by the BBC stated on the 9th April, we expect that to remain high through April. The thoughts of people sitting at home, anxious, with no/significantly structure and a substance to hand to help them numb those thoughts is a scary one. Especially for those still dealing with the impact of when this happened in the economic downturn in the 1980’s. We need more than ever a government that understands the principles of prevention and harm reduction. It’s vital that we undertake the following:
- Ensure that Needle Exchanges are open consistently and providing Naloxone like their lives depend on it – for some peoples will. We have no control over the illegal market where drugs are supplied and this creates a significant risk of adulteration of substances like fentanyl.
- Work on a prevention, advice and information project giving people the knowledge and tools to identify when they are consuming harmful levels of alcohol, providing them with support to keep on top of this.
- Ensure that our services are in good shape for when the health crisis slows down, this will reveal a significant social crisis. The current drug and alcohol treatment system has been so badly damaged by austerity that it cannot cope with pre COVID levels of alcohol use. We need to prepare now for post levels. There are 1.3 million admissions a year to UK hospitals related to alcohol. This will increase post COVID.
It’s our aim at Project 6 to work to these three principles alongside supporting those in recovery who have already made their changes. This is an exceptionally difficult time for them, isolation is literally the worst thing you can do. Our work is underpinned by one simple idea: you can’t recover if you are dead. Harm reduction is the only show in town.
We have spent the last few years talking about assets and communities, attempting to practice Asset Based Community Development, and often failing to really grasp what this means. Now we have a chance to change that and let our communities and people lead the way – there is a plan -and it will work best if we use this rich network of people and communities who are so keen to support each other.
Community mobilisation has been phenomenal. New partnerships and interdependencies have formed - cross sectors and cross faiths, people are now working in ways, delivering services that they had no idea even existed two weeks ago. Behind them are a team of leaders moving the chess pieces around and unblocking things left, right and centre. Forming leadership teams across sectors, making things happen, quickly, strategically and in ways we never thought possible.
There have been some tricky bits and even more tricky times ahead. Our sector’s needs are being ignored by the government, but there are some great champions for us fighting our corner. A plea; we need our voice amplified by colleagues across all sectors. For when this enormous change settles down the safety net we offer, will have shifted, and strengthened and be needed more than ever before. Health, social and income inequalities are being exposed more than ever, the people living tentatively on the breadline are now in free fall. Referrals to our local foodbank are nearly doubling each week, our crisis service is staffed 8 fold to handle the work, we are planning all the time but we don’t really know what for.
The new community heroes are emerging all the time, the restaurant owners who want to come and cook food for the street drinkers and homeless, the taxi drivers delivering baby milk to us this afternoon, the front line staff who are delivering new services with gusto (and with no PPE for weeks) and the ones at home developing new ways of working with vulnerable people, families and children and calming distressed people on the phone.
This is a story that is still being written, while there is exhaustion and fear, there is also hope and optimism and solidarity. There are some amazing things happening out here. Let’s make sure we take the very best of what’s happening and build around it.