DDN April 2019 DDN April 2019 | Page 8

women A space to grow We are failing to reach women, connect with them and provide a safe environment in treatment, hears DDN 8 | drinkanddrugsnews | April 2019 D rug-related deaths among women are the highest since records began. In the decade since 2006 there was a 95 per cent increase in women dying as a result of drug misuse, meaning that 697 women lost their lives in 2016. So what’s going wrong and where are we failing? And how can we turn this situation around? At a meeting of the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group, speakers were asked to give their thoughts on how we can break down barriers to improve women’s access to treatment. ‘Abuse and violence are underpinning problems,’ said Jessica Southgate, policy manager at Agenda – the Alliance for Women and Girls at Risk. In many cases women’s substance misuse was likely to be intertwined with violence, criminal justice and mental health issues and linked to hidden violence and trauma. ‘Drugs are often used as a way to numb the pain of trauma,’ she said. ‘Women often end up in abusive relationships and remain in them because of their dependencies.’ Among the population of women prisoners, it was found that 66 per cent had committed offences to buy drugs and 48 per cent had offended to support the drug use of someone else (compared to 22 per cent of men). As well as abuse and trauma, recurring themes in the lives of women facing addiction were poor socio-economic circumstances and strong feelings of stigma and shame, which could include specific cultural disapproval among BAME communities. The many complicated reasons that women turned to substance misuse meant that getting them appropriate help could be extremely difficult. ‘Women substance misusers typically have complex needs and are often overlooked in service provision and policymaking,’ said Southgate. As well as being overlooked in mainstream services they could also find themselves in ‘intimidating spaces’, particularly if they had experienced violence in their relationships with men. Her organisation, Agenda, had partnered with AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) to produce Mapping the Maze – a project looking at the provision of services for women across the sectors of substance misuse, mental health, homelessness, offending and complex needs in England and Wales. They found that only 19 areas out of 173 in England and Wales had services that addressed all of these issues, and that most services only tackled a single issue. Many services were focused entirely on pregnant women or those with young babies, while provision for BAME women was extremely rare. There was nothing at all specifically for LGBTQI, those with disabilities, or refugees and asylum seekers. While funding cuts and contract requirements were found to be serious obstacles to delivering good and effective services, the Mapping the Maze model was being suggested as a framework for developing effective interventions. ‘Service design is one of the key pieces from evidence,’ said Southgate, and this included making sure staff were trained to look for, recognise and understand issues relating to multiple disadvantage and the impact of trauma, particularly in terms of violence and victimisation. Talking to women who were affected had revealed that getting the right help could be extremely difficult and could take a long time where services did not link up. Drugs were often used to numb the pain of trauma, she said, and it was important that all the appropriate support services were primed to help. A collaborative approach with women worked best in understanding the links with substance misuse, asking their opinions and valuing the ‘lived experience’ of peer support. At the moment, women were being ‘systematically excluded’ as ‘so often policy is made in silos’, she said, when we needed to ‘put women’s voices at the heart of it’. www.drinkanddrugsnews.com