Drink and Drugs News DDN December 2019 | Page 9

The idea that we can support each other through talking was not isolated to a retreat. Katy McLeod of Chill Welfare met many people in festival settings who were experiencing intensive psychedelic interventions. The network of volunteers offered practical and therapeutic support and ‘de-escalation’, which involved ‘being careful around questioning, humour, refocusing and distraction’. The purpose was to keep people safe but was also an opportunity for early interventions – a chance to talk to relevant drug services. The specialist interventions included a dedicated mental health response team, which appreciated that people sometimes had an experience they hadn’t expected. They supported them ‘in that moment’ and worked holistically as a team of volunteers to provide a safe space. These initiatives were invaluable in a climate of massive cuts to drug services, and equally important was the progress being made in some areas by police and crime commissioners. Megan Jones, policy manager for West Midlands PCC said reducing harm was a key driver to strategy, alongside reducing crime and cost to the community. Birmingham officers were now saving lives through carrying nasal naloxone and their eight-point recommendations included heroin assisted treatment (HAT) and drug consumption rooms, alongside diverting people away from the criminal justice WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM system. Liaising with schools and colleges was creating a new dialogue with young people. Lizzie McCulloch of Volte Face also emphasised the power of talking in ‘mobilising and engaging’ and inspiring change. Their campaign to legalise cannabis had engaged people from all affiliations. ‘People underestimate how influential it is having these conversations,’ she said. THE TIDE IS TURNING The positive developments explored at the conference – which included research on agonist medications for treating problematic stimulant use, interesting research on microdosing, and promising progress on drug-checking initiatives that led to harm reduction interventions – gave a strong flavour of optimism that prompted the conference’s creator Pat O’Hare to say ‘the tide is turning on harm reduction’. But the event’s purpose was also to remind us to redouble efforts against the backdrop of an appalling – and preventable – drug- related death rate. Prun Bijral, medical director at Change Grow Live, was invited to give a provider’s perspective and acknowledged that, with the current public health crisis, ‘we are in a very hostile system for people who use drugs.’ The ‘whole person’ approach was crucial he said, and this relied on using people’s experience. A lot of the data capture in this sector was meaningless, but a NO TIME TO LOSE ‘WE ARE NOT AHEAD OF THE CURVE by a long shot,’ warned Mick Webb, project coordinator at CDF Bristol. ‘Drug-related deaths are at record levels and the government’s response was to slash the treatment budget. When NDTMS data was released on drug-related deaths, why wasn’t something done? Imagine what the drug-related death figure would be if naloxone wasn’t about.’ ‘We can all talk, but 12 people in the UK will die today,’ said George Charlton, leading the event’s naloxone workshop. ‘Only 16 out of 100 people using opiates across England are given take-home naloxone. If we’re not giving naloxone, we’re giving the message that it doesn’t matter if you die. Locally, in the north east – ‘the drug death capital’ – their peer network had been helping to create momentum that things were changing. ‘There’s a palpable sense that harm reduction is returning,’ he said. ‘So let’s fucking do it. Overdose is reversable, death is not.’ good system relied on ‘bottom up’ feedback – learning about, and from, the service user’s journey. ‘Data is really important, but it’s about making space for people to get together, off the hamster wheel, to collaborate,’ he said. ‘We need to do things better, work better together, be open and share what we have, and welcome all perspectives.’ ‘Harm reduction saves lives, but what we need is more perspectives’ concluded the session’s chair Gill Bradbury. ‘There are lots more tools in the box – let’s use them.’ DDN DEC 2019-JAN 2020 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • 9