'Targets in the way of drug treatment'

RICHARD BATSON Richard Gibney is making a fresh start, after 10 years of heroin hell, overdoses, and prison.Every day when he wakes up at the Diana, Princess of Wales treatment centre in north Norfolk he is looking forward to rebuilding his life and links with his family.

RICHARD BATSON

Richard Gibney is making a fresh start, after 10 years of heroin hell, overdoses, and prison.

Every day when he wakes up at the Diana, Princess of Wales treatment centre in north Norfolk he is looking forward to rebuilding his life and links with his family.

It comes after 15 years as a drug user - the last decade on heroin that saw the 29-year-old south Londoner descend into a spiral of abuse and petty crime.

He was given methadone heroin substitute on a day-care drug programme - but sold it to buy a daily £40 fix.

"I was shoplifting and burgling too. I lost count of the number of times I was arrested, and went to prison four or five times.

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"Even in jail I was on drugs. There is more inside than there was on the outside," he explained, chatting in the treatment centre near Mundesley.

"I overdosed three or four times and was taken to hospital. I was lucky to survive. My mum and family hated me when I was doing drugs. The treat-ments and jail were just not working."

Now he is a month into a six-month stay at the residential centre - and after a few days on methadone is "clean".

Richard and fellow recovering drug and alcohol addicts are given group and individual therapy, sessions on offender behaviour, and alternative therapies ranging from acupuncture and Reiki to drumming and drama.

But there are growing national concerns that government drug treatment policy is failing to put enough people through residential programmes - leading to problems for clinics, users and society in general.

The Association of Directors of Social Services is warning of an impending crisis, with some centres half empty and others having to close beds.

The boss of the Norfolk clinic, Brian Arbery, said a government plan to increase residential treatment had been undermined because local drug action teams were too busy chasing treatment targets - meaning they pushed higher numbers of addicts into cheaper methadone-based community schemes.

"It is a quick fix and ticks the target boxes, but it cannot get people off sometimes decades of drug using and prison," said Mr Arbery, chief executive of the Adapt charity which runs the clinic in Norfolk. It has 71 beds, and would hope to have 60-65 of them in use, but currently only has 45 clients, while a sister clinic in the West Country has seen the number of referrals fall even more sharply.

"I have heard of rehab centres closing beds and even shutting whole units," he added. "If you don't put every drug user into a drug-free lifestyle, they will keep coming back into the courts.

"We have prisons bursting at the seams, and the prospect of prisoners being kept in police cells at the cost of £361 a night - when they could be with us for £100, with a real prospect of getting off drugs," said Mr Arbery.

Adapt had raised the problems with former home secretary Charles Clarke when he visited the clinic last year, about the time the situation worsened.

The National Treatment Agency, a special health authority aimed at increasing the effectiveness of drug treatment, yesterday said weekly figures showed bed occupancy was at 80pc compared to 85pc last year. Its chief executive Paul Hayes said there was a problem but not as widespread or significant as claimed.

Mr Arbery said the NTA figures were "rubbish" partly because its database did not cover all homes, and because home bosses were reluctant to give gloomy figures in case people thought they were failing.

Talks are scheduled for next Wednes-day between drug agencies, the Home Office and NTA, and Mr Arbery hopes they can unlock the problems to give treatment centres a clean start.