OUT OF HARM ’ S WAY
After working for Change Grow Live for more than 12 years in various roles I am now starting in the new role of national harm reduction lead , and I fully share the organisation ’ s ambition and commitment to ensuring harm reduction is a priority in our response to the new UK drug strategy . Reducing harm and drug-related deaths must be at the forefront of our minds .
I hope that the debate around abstinence vs harm reduction has run its course , as both approaches can play an important role in drug and alcohol treatment . As we respond to meeting the objectives set out in the strategy , I would like to see harm reduction beliefs and practice at the heart of treatment services , alongside the confidence and hope that abstinence is possible if chosen as a treatment goal . Harm reduction interventions
Peter Furlong is Change Grow Live ’ s new national harm reduction lead . Here he talks about his career journey and the need to focus on saving lives
and meaningful support towards abstinence can of course sit within the same continuums of care , with many of the Dame Carol Black report ’ s recommendations reminding us of the need to revisit areas lost to disinvestment or policy changes .
EARLY DAYS Starting as a volunteer for Merseyside Drugs Council ( MDC ) in 1996 , I knew I that wanted to learn more about drugs and hopefully help some people close to me with their challenges around substance misuse . This was particularly driven by the arrival of cheap brown powder heroin in the ' 80s and crack cocaine in the ' 90s . My thoughts and feelings about drug and alcohol treatment at that time included anger and frustration , and of course compassion for the people involved – this anger largely stemming from seeing some people very close to me not getting the support or treatment they needed . This included losing an uncle to an avoidable death from him contracting HIV through his injecting drug use – in the early ' 80s his illness was treated like a shameful event surrounded by mystery . I came to the stark realisation that better , more humanistic basic treatment and access to clean injecting equipment could have helped prevent his death .
My own rapid affiliation with harm reduction approaches and interventions was again led by poor treatment access in the ' 90s . It was common to see five-year waiting lists to access specialist substitute prescribing when I began volunteering in Merseyside . Keeping people as safe as possible from all of the harms associated with drug use at the time centred around increasing access to clean injecting equipment , and safer injecting advice . It also involved promoting then-new messages around the risks of BBVs and sharing paraphernalia , as well as outreach methods to seek out people who did not have access to basic health care and support . As an outreach worker and non-clinician , I often found myself sitting with people who had to share drugs to avoid withdrawal , or were forced to attempt self-detox with no clinical support . By default I was providing advice and guidance on things like their injecting practice , more hygienic drug use , and promoting peer-to-peer support and advice when possible .
From volunteering I started work in the well-known Maryland Centre in Liverpool , where I had the opportunity to learn from some great people in the field . I also worked with the activists who established the now globally famous ‘ Mersey model ’ of harm reduction and went on to train others in what I see now as an approach grounded in the Hippocratic Oath of ‘ first do no harm ’.
HARM REDUCTION HEROES Some of these harm reduction heroes , such as Professor Pat O ’ Hare , Alan Parry and Alan Mathews , led the way in the late ' 80s , and much of my own learning came from great tutors and influencers such as Alan McGee , Jon Dericott , Andrew Bennet , and many more . The Maryland Centre opened up a whole
16 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • FEBRUARY 2022 WWW . DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS . COM