DDN May 2022 May 2022 | Page 6


Women in the sector are using their power to collaborate and demand change , says Karen Tyrell STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

Over the last decade , the number of women dying drugrelated deaths has increased by almost 80 per cent , yet the number accessing treatment has remained stubbornly static . This means that there are likely to be many women out there who are facing substance use alone and this needs to change . Despite this gender disparity in terms of the people who access services , from a staffing perspective approximately 70 per cent of people employed in the substance use treatment sector are women and many of them work in services . I was one of those front-line workers when I began my career more than 20 years ago but as I ’ ve progressed my career the number of female colleagues around me has dropped . This lack of women in senior roles has meant that the opinions and experiences of women have often not been heard during decision-making discussions and this , combined with very little

gender-specific research , has led to the needs of women not being considered in the design of services . For example , it ’ s a lot more difficult to pick up a script every day or attend a group session if the pharmacy is on the other side of town , you don ’ t have access to a car and you have two children in tow .
Women are also a lot more likely to fall into the category of ‘ hidden homeless ’ – sleeping on friends ’ sofas or staying in bedsits and who therefore won ’ t be connected to services through street outreach staff or hostel workers . Not to mention the fact that women who use drugs or alcohol often face additional stigma which can make accessing services more daunting . A lack of recognition of the inherent challenges that women face has led to :
• There being no female-only inpatient detox facilities
• Vastly fewer choices for women who want female-only residential treatment
• No consistent access to specialist midwifery for women in
substance misuse
• No specialist services for women struggling with both addiction and the menopause
• No national minimum standards for women ’ s treatment
‘ I ’ m not sure , with the exception of a few specialist organisations , if we ever had the specialism needed in the sector to fully support women ,’ says national head of service , public health and substance misuse at Turning Point , Nat Travis . ‘ Traditionally , providers have always seen a greater proportion of males in treatment , often in the region of two thirds to one third and we need to change this and ensure that we provide the right opportunities for women to engage with treatment , and that our treatment offers them what they need .’
I ’ m pleased to say that the sector is now working together to address this issue . Last year , I saw Hannah Shead , CEO of Trevi , present about the female-only residential treatment service her organisation runs . She was really compelling and
‘ I feel like I ’ ve been able to open up more and talk about more . It means I ’ ve been able to properly deal with the trauma . A lot of my problems stem from domestic violence , I wouldn ’ t be able to talk about that with men .’