Like most of us who love an addict, I keep hoping that Ryan, my 36-year-old drug-addicted son, will see the light and decide to get clean. And over the years I’ve often thought about the level of help he could expect to receive if such a miracle occurred. Would the support be there for him? Two years ago, Wiltshire Council appointed Turning Point as the county’s main provider of addiction services. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reports about them but, in my experience, they tried to help Ryan, even though he wouldn’t properly engage. In 2018 he was forced to go by probation, which he did grudgingly. He asked me to go with him to the initial interview, where the woman asked in-depth questions in a forthright manner – she didn’t beat about the bush. She was obviously well used to dealing with addicts and, despite Ryan’s tetchiness, she got all the information she needed and offered him help (which of course he didn’t take). I liked her style and I also learned a lot about his drug habits. Another plus point for me is that Turning Point has a centre in Trowbridge. Ryan walks everywhere and is often penniless so it’s easy for him to get there when necessary.
The importance of such support goes without saying. Addiction is not only a disease that destroys lives, but also a massive drain on society. Organisations like Turning Point help to reduce the burden on the rest of us, even though the taxpayer still picks up the fallout and the bill: the police, the justice system, the NHS, prisons, social services and the probation service are all busy clearing up each and every addict’s mess. Therefore, I think addiction services should be properly funded and able to deal with the complexities of each situation. There is never one simple reason why someone ends up snorting cocaine or drinking a bottle of vodka every day. Talking therapies and mentoring are as crucial as practical help with accommodation, finance etc. Mental health issues are also closely linked to substance abuse. At support group we’ve often discussed which came first: our addict’s habit or their head problems. Because of this connection, I believe it should be a statutory requirement that organisations like Turning Point and the NHS work closely together.
With all this in mind, I was concerned this week to read that even though drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before COVID-19, the number of high-risk drinkers has doubled since lockdown. Doubled! These people will soon need to use addiction services which, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have been “starved of funding” for years. This has to be a false economy. Picking up the pieces must be far costlier. Even though I’m glad Wiltshire has Turning Point, it hasn’t worked for Ryan. His life has become so complicated that no one body alone can help him, but more on that another time. What are addiction services like in your town or city? Let me know.