Healthy Living: Friendly house which helps kick addictions

Guernsey House staff. Pictured LtoR. Andy Niblock(Service Manager),Dr Gaynor Radley,Dave Burt(Ambassador)
Guernsey House staff. Pictured LtoR. Andy Niblock(Service Manager),Dr Gaynor Radley,Dave Burt(Ambassador)
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Scores of Sheffielders walk past Guernsey House every day yet many may not give it a second glance.

But the nondescript building, in Lowfield, is home to a service which has helped thousands of people whose lives have been blighted by drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.

Using a mixture of one-on-one working, substitute medications and tailored support, the Primary Care Addiction Service Sheffield currently has around 900 patients on its books, and aims to see them kick their addictions once and for all.

But the department’s clinical director Dr Gaynor Radley, and service manager Andy Niblock, say public perceptions of drug users mean it is vital to justify why NHS funds should be used to tackle the scourge of illicit substances.

“Often a lot of people have had problems that most of us would never experience - upbringings that have been so different, you can kind of see why they are where they are,” said Gaynor.

“This is a friendly and kind place to be. People want to help - and we’ve got a track record of helping people.”

The addiction service - known as PCASS - accepts referrals from GPs, social workers and probation officers, among others, and caters for people aged over 18.

Guernsey House’s team is made up of doctors, clinical nurse specialists, drug workers and support staff.

Andy said the service’s ‘mainstay’ is still opiate replacement therapy - treating heroin users with controlled substances such as methadone and subutex - but that the prevalence of such drugs is reducing.

“There are problems with over-the-counter medications, we see lots of patients using cannabis and quite a lot of amphetamine users,” he added.

But Gaynor said solely focusing on a person’s addiction is not a recipe for success.

“You have to see people a lot more holistically. It’s estimated that for every £1 spent on drug treatment, around £2.50 is saved on reducing crime and lowering costs to the NHS.

“If you get a person stable and in treatment, then that person no longer has to find the money to fund their habit. Not all people commit crime to fund drugs, but there will be lots of things that it’s affecting. It’s very rare that a person comes in and their life is completely alright.

“We find the best patients are the ones who want to come - they have decided that enough is enough.

“The harder ones are people who have been coerced or persuaded, or the treatment is part of a criminal justice package. We have less success with them. But it’s always worthwhile.

“We also see second-generation drug users, people whose parents began in the 1980s and 90s. Sometimes you feel like as a society, maybe we’re not addressing certain things.”

At PCASS, addicts are offered counselling and the support of a key worker, who can point former drug users towards services that will help prevent relapse.

There is also a women-only clinic, a specialist pregnancy clinic and satellite clinics at the Wicker Pharmacy and Hanover Medical Centre.

Recently the service has diversified by encouraging recovering patients in different activities. A group of reformed addicts has even formed a rock band with the support of staff.

PCASS is run by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, but commissioned and paid for by the city council, under its public health remit.

Gaynor said no time limit is placed on patients becoming drug-free.

“People can be here anything from a few weeks up to 10 years. But the fact they’re here for 10 years doesn’t mean they’re not trying, there will have been some massive, positive changes in their lives.

“We really try not to let people go unless they’re ready for it. More than anything else, it’s dangerous - if people relapse it’s quite risky.

“We’re held up sometimes by some things we can’t alter. People are often in very poor housing or an unhelpful area. They can’t get away from drugs, people will come knocking at their door.

“Last year we got about 70 people out drug-free and off their medication. We never give up on anyone.”

‘I’m accomplishing my lifetime dream’

Dave Burt knows all about the cruel effects of heroin addiction.

The 29-year-old, from Halfway, first ‘dabbled’ with the drug almost a decade ago, but four years later he developed a serious habit which nearly derailed his life completely.

“My stepfather died from cancer and my girlfriend left me,” said Dave.

“A mate gave me some heroin and I started doing more and more. Eventually I started working for someone to get heroin. I can remember telling myself that things were bad then.

“The first time, it had just been a flash in the pan, a six-month thing, but this was proper addiction.

“It was absolute hell - worse than hell, in fact, physically, mentally and emotionally.

“It controls every minute of every day. Everything you do is for the heroin. Every waking thought and moment is for the heroin.”

But despite being held firmly in the drug’s grip, Dave was brave enough to go to his doctor and ask for help.

“I just said, I need help with this - I’m losing my family, the last people I want to lose,” he said.

At Guernsey House Dave was put on a methadone prescription but, to his regret, he didn’t take up the offer of a personal key worker to aid his recovery.

“I didn’t know about any of the other services, if at that moment in time someone had said there was a place called Turning Point, which deals with substance misuse, then I would definitely have gone there,” he added.

Dave is now an ambassador for Sheffield’s Primary Care Addiction Service, promoting the benefits of leaving drugs behind to patients.

One day Dave even hopes to become a key worker himself.

“I can’t put into words how rewarding it is.

“I’m in a position now where I’ve wanted to be since I was 13 years old. I feel like I’m accomplishing my life’s dreams, helping someone from the point I meet them to them leaving clean.

“The staff are brilliant here, you can have a laugh, and that’s really important.

“I can pursue what I want from life. I can have a family and kids, but I know that’s going to take a lot of work.

“Being free from drugs is, for me, a dream.”