Our work reduces the health, social and economic harm associated with drug use.
This is a city-wide initiative in partnership with St Anne’s Harm Reduction Service in central Leeds. It was one of the first services to be established by Barca-Leeds and has spawned other Barca-Leeds services.
Why Harm Reduction?
A single user of Class A drugs costs the country some £400,000 a year in direct expenses such as social welfare and health. Overall, the cost of crime attributed to Class A drug use comes to nearly £14 billion a year. Our work helps reduce the harm that drug use does to health, society and the economy.
How it works
The concept of Harm Reduction can be misunderstood. This is because people may confuse promoting health (eg needle-exchange) with condoning drug use. We see drugs as simply one bit of the picture; we neither condemn nor condone drug-use, just as we neither condemn nor condone anything else about a client. We don’t judge. Instead, we support people who have been affected by drugs in many ways (physical, social, mental, financial etc) to make positive changes to their lives.
What we do
Harm Reduction is a drop-in service for anyone affected by drugs. We respond to people with complex problems in a very practical way. They might need us to talk through a family problem, discuss a new ‘party’ drug, or give them a lift to a medical centre. It could be form-filling, information about housing, a home visit or an emergency food bag. Our outreach work allows us to stay in touch with people who can’t, for whatever reason, come to us. We’re often the only service that some of the most vulnerable people ever see. There is, though, one need that all our clients share: and that is for us simply to be there for them, often at a time when there’s no one else. We support them as they get ‘better’, in the broadest possible way, every step of the way. Later, some ask to be referred to our drug treatment service.
Within Harm Reduction we also have a very successful arts group that meets once a week. This group is open to anyone within the Harm Reduction Service. People come with varying skills levels and it is a good chance to come and relax, make some artwork and talk to fellow Harm Reduction clients and share experiences.
The group recently completed a design for the 150th commemorative banner for Bramley St Peter’s Church in Bramley.
Norah Gibson from Bramley St Peter’s said “We are all absolutely delighted by the lovely design your group made for the 150th commemorative banner for St Peter’s. It really is a joy, full of hope”.
The group also took part in a recent ‘Messages Across Leeds’ project which was a collaborative project with Leeds College of Art and Design and local community groups. A painting from our group was chosen to exhibit and some artwork was used in a book.
For a lot of people, we’re the first call. They may be only at the stage where they realise they have a problem with a drug, but are not yet ready to try to stop. But they do want more information so that they can start to make decisions about their lives. It’s not all about drugs, though. There’s so much other stuff going on. They may be full of shame and guilt, in despair about their lives. We unpick the problems, the causes, build up their confidence so that they can grow as a person, build up trust. They might then be in a position to look at their nutrition, or go to see a nurse, or get the confidence to make a phone call, all of which helps them develop as a person. And then, maybe, as things become less chaotic, they’ll see that coming off drugs is a real possibility. (Margaret Lee)
Facts and figures
* Active client base: 971
* Brief intervention: 156
* Referrals on: 90
How we could grow the service
Many of our clients won’t go to their GP, for various reasons. So if they need a wound cleaning, for example, we have to take them to the walk-in centre. Or they’ll use A&E inappropriately, which is a huge cost to the NHS. If we had our own nurse, we could address so many of our clients’ health care needs immediately. The chance to see a nurse on the outreach bus, for example, would be a huge motivation to get people to think about their health. It would also people another way to initiate contact with us, and so would make an enormous difference to our service.
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Lewis first came into contact with the Harm Reduction team through their outreach work: he would come to the van to pick up clean needles. Over time, he came to trust the workers, and eventually decided to move into structured treatment. Lewis was then diagnosed with pancreatitis. The only way to control the pain was with morphine, which meant stopping his methadone. So Lewis left treatment and moved back into Harm Reduction. Because Lewis’s health needs had changed since they first met him, the team then assembled a full, detailed picture of all of Lewis’s care needs, and created a community care programme for him. From arranging minor repairs to his flat to helping him fill in forms, the team has made sure that Lewis isn’t left to cope with a serious illness, drug addiction and social needs on his own.
Marianne was already involved with social services, Barnardo’s and other services. We gave Marianne intensive, one-to-one support to help her get back into structured day care. This involved taking her to the centre until she had settled in and was able to make her own way there. After that, Marianne was ready to join a group that helps people develop important life skills. Marianne began to talk about leaving her abusive partner and the possibility of treatment. After we helped her move, our colleagues from St Anne’s took over Marianne’s care. We have since heard that she successfully completed a de-tox programme.
Nancy, who is in treatment for drug addiction, won’t go to the doctor. As a result, her mental health problems have never been officially diagnosed. One day, Nancy’s cooker broke, and she became distraught. The Harm Reduction team gave her an emergency bag of food to get her through the next four days, when she was able to pick up her benefit money and buy some food. As a result of this single incident, Nancy slowly began to trust one of the workers. She has now asked the worker to accompany her to the doctor. Walking to the surgery with someone seems like an insignificant gesture. But it will result in a mental health referral. Nancy will finally get the treatment and support she so badly needs. The impact on her future could be dramatic.