DDN_April_2024 DDN April 2024 | Page 12




This year , Release will be working to promote sector change , says Shayla Schlossenberg


or this month ’ s column , we decided it would be best to reflect on what we learned in 2023 , and spell out Release ’ s plans to try and do things differently in 2024 – we ’ ll be back with another case study in our next regular column .
Over the past year , we ’ ve been adapting our ways of working based on our own and our service users ’ experiences of advocating for better treatment . We know that quick and low-barrier access to treatment is more important than ever , as we see increasing nitazene contamination in various drug supplies , putting many lives at risk . We also know that for many people who use drugs , by the time they find Release ’ s helpline they ’ re already in dire circumstances , often after months of trying to cope with poor or no treatment from their drugs service . This also does not account for the many people who will never come across the helpline , or who will exit services or suffer indefinitely – unaware that they ’ re entitled to better treatment .
In order to increase access to knowledge about advocacy , and with that , increase the number of people who access drug services and receive high quality care from those services , Release has produced a two-part advocacy guide for people in treatment and those supporting them . We will soon announce a webinar introduction to the guides as well
as formal training for drug service key workers and other support workers on how each can play their part in promoting access to advocacy , so stay tuned .
A secondary goal is for workers to be better able to support people on their caseloads , as a number of key workers have told us they were in need of such a resource .
In fact , non-clinical and clinical workers alike have told us that they weren ’ t aware of the breadth of tools and strategies they could be deploying to support their clients . For clinical workers , we ’ ve found that case studies discussed in groups of fellow clinicians have been an effective tool for promoting learning and discussions of current challenges , such as the need for refreshed guidance on working with people dependent on illicit benzodiazepines . Staff at Release have therefore supported some practising and retired clinicians from the drugs sector to form the UK Drugs Clinical Network ( UKDCN ), first conceived at the 2023 Royal College of GPs ’ Managing drug and alcohol problems in primary care conference .
The UKDCN is a forum for clinicians to pool knowledge , experience and resources to better meet patients ’ needs and think creatively about the challenges people face and the solutions available . Organisations must change to meet the needs of individuals and not the other
way around , and the UKDCN aims to bring people together to achieve this . If you are a clinician , you can register to become a forum member at https :// www . ukdcn . co . uk / home .
Of course , not everyone will want or need to enrol in drug treatment services . In fact , the majority of people who use drugs won ’ t need the support these services primarily offer , but would benefit from harm reduction support . Unfortunately , most harm reduction services in England are built into drug treatment services that people don ’ t feel comfortable accessing . Some people who contact Release also fear that accessing their needle and syringe programme will negatively impact their script in future , so we urgently need harm reduction services that are truly low threshold . As such , Release has decided to construct our own public harm reduction hub . In one week , we managed to crowdfund our entire initial goal of £ 7,500 to construct the space and order supplies and furniture . The crowdfunder remains open to support us in purchasing additional supplies such as nitazene , xylazine and fentanyl test strips .
Harm reduction is much more than drug checking tools and sterile syringes . It ’ s about promoting a rights-based approach and ‘ meeting people where they ’ re at ,’ not only in terms of time and place but also working against systems of oppression
Release has produced a twopart advocacy guide for people in treatment and those supporting them .
which are causing wider harm . In order to expand the number of people who are skilled in working this way , and to make sure that the hub itself is adequately staffed to expand its hours , Release has also launched a new volunteering programme . Find out more about it at https :// www . release . org . uk / vacancies and sign up if you ’ re interested in taking part .
Ultimately , our goal is to contribute to bringing about conditions where we are no longer needed . We hope that we can support the rights of people who use drugs through our advocacy and policy work alike , and galvanise workers in the drugs sector and friends in our own backyard to – through a diversity of tactics – achieve a fair and just society for drug users of all backgrounds .
Harm reduction hub at https :// www . justgiving . com / campaign / harmreduxhub
Advocacy guide at https :// www . release . org . uk / publications / advice-booklets
Shayla Schlossenberg is drugs service coordinator at Release
Mongkol Akarasirithada / iStock