July/August 2020 - Page 15

PARLIAMENTARY GROUP implemented needle exchanges to stop sharing and prescribing to reduce injecting. But there were still battles to be fought over clean injecting equipment. I had been seconded to the Standing Conference on Drug Addiction (SCODA) from the THT to write a booklet about AIDS for drug users, but in February ‘86 I spoke at a large National Haemophiliac Society meeting in Newcastle at which I represented SCODA and called for a serious examination of supplying clean needles. This was picked up on Newsnight, and on Monday I found myself called to the office of the director. In fact the Friday before, after six months of abstinence from opiates, I had engaged a private doctor to look after me so that I didn’t resume injecting. He strongly objected that I had supported needle exchanges. I was also told that I ‘looked stoned’ and under no circumstances could someone work in a drugs agency even on legal methadone. That same day I returned to the THT where we concentrated on reducing the risk for drug users through advocacy with politicians, speaking engagements, and writing leaflets. By 1988, the McClelland report in Scotland and the ACMD special report chaired by Ruth Runciman gave the green light to access to clean needles, setting up 15 pilot schemes in England and Scotland. These were quickly expanded when the pilots reported favourably and both reports called for an immediate re-evaluation of methadone prescribing. GPs had also become more independent and proactive especially if they had no specialist prescriber. West Berkshire Health Authority under Ailsa Duncan, their drugs coordinator, engaged me in 1988 to train a group of around 15 GPs to prescribe methadone. It was a fiveday course with a written handbook. Apart from Ailsa, none of the doctors were aware they were being trained by a methadone patient! I have great respect for all evidence-based treatment including non-prescribing approaches when it’s what the patient seeks. But present policies that deny people such approaches are shameful and should not be tolerated. In the last part of this series, we will look at the golden age of drug services – the first eight years of 2000. And how it all collapsed and we ended up where we are now. Bill Nelles is an advocate and activist, now in Canada. He founded The (Methadone) Alliance in the UK ‘We know that the main method of transmission [of AIDs] among drug takers is the sharing of dirty needles... It was clearly documented in a paper produced by Edinburgh professionals in February 1986. The Scottish Office commissioned a report from a committee chaired by Brian McClelland published in September 1986, which recommended decisively that the government should bite the bullet and provide clean syringes at an exchange centre, where drug injectors would be able to obtain free needles and syringes. ‘The government’s response to that call has been so inadequate as to be positively irresponsible. They sat on the McClelland report for months. Eventually, they announced 15 pilot schemes, 12 in England and three in Scotland. Of course such projects involve problems – the minister may wish to comment on them – but we must make the projects work.’ Gavin Strang MP (Edinburgh, East), House of Commons debate 31 March 1988 WHERE TIME STANDS STILL Things need to move faster to support prisoners on release, heard the parliamentary group. DDN reports All probation services would move to the public sector in June 2021 – ‘a massive step forward in providing a unified service,’ according to Katie Lomas, chair of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO). Outsourcing the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders to community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) in 2015 had had some disastrous consequences and resulted in poor outcomes for the people they were meant to serve, she told the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group (which met online). Clients had multiple needs and services had to be flexible and responsive, against a background of tightening resources. Partnerships were being hampered by a lack of information sharing, which was making it too easy for people to ‘slip through the cracks’. Everything in probation was about relationships, she said, and we must ‘develop and maintain excellent partnerships in prison, resettlement and the community’. Despite reports by Lord Patel and Lord Bradford outlining problems and recommendations, there had been little analysis and follow-up or evidence that anything had been taken forward, said Professor Alex Stevens, former chair of the ACMD’s Custody-Community Transitions Working Group. Prisoners were still routinely released on a Friday afternoon without any support in place, including housing, and just £46 in their pockets. While the proportion of prisoners released with naloxone had increased from 12-17 per cent in England, the pace of change was far too slow. Amy Levy, Humankind’s assistant director for North East prisons reported positive results from partnership working and mutual support during the COVID situation, with a focus on continuity of care and harm reduction. Jaya Karira and Max Griffiths, working in WDP services, also emphasised the value of improving communications between prisons and treatment services, specifically around prisoners’ medication needs on release. They also called for mandatory naloxone distribution and diligence around BBV testing and information-sharing with community healthcare teams. A prison officer for more than 30 years, Jo Simpson spoke of his frustration that despite improvements, the service had ‘hardly come on in leaps and bounds’. ‘I have seen some good reports but nothing done with them,’ he said. Technology in prisons was ‘non-existent’ when it could have helped significantly during COVID, enabling prisoners to talk to their families and continue their education. ‘People tend to blame the prison staff, but we get frustrated that things aren’t happening,’ he said. ‘They keep saying we’ve got a drug strategy programme – but where is it?’ DDN WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM JULY/AUGUST 2020 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • 15