Helping Sheffield drug users fight their addiction

Addicts who started using drugs in the 1980s and 90s are now suffering serious health problems which are sometimes fatal.

By Lucy Ashton
Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 1:54 pm
Updated Friday, 18th October 2019, 1:06 pm
Sheffield drug deaths are not related to budget cuts, say Public Health bosses
Sheffield drug deaths are not related to budget cuts, say Public Health bosses

Health chiefs says many drug addicts don’t die from overdoses but from other complications and the cause of deaths can be complex and wide ranging.

Addiction treatment firm UKAT says Sheffield Council has cut its budget by £1.3 million over six years, when over the same time, drug deaths have risen by 12 per cent.

But Greg Fell, director of public health, has strongly refuted claims that budget cuts have led to deaths and says addicts in the city get swift access to treatment.

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Coun George Lindars-Hammond, Cabinet member for health and social care

In Sheffield, people can get same day access to substance misuse treatment services, compared to two days nationally.

“It’s not fair to say we are not on it,” said Mr Fell. “It is true deaths have gone up and that’s not desirable but it’s not true to say we are not addressing this as best we possibly can.

“Nationally it’s about two days to be seen so we are better than that, which is great. We go to great lengths to provide access to treatment as evidence says getting into treatment quickly has the biggest impact.

“We work really hard to maintain open access which means anyone wishing to get treatment can walk into services without an appointment and will be assessed on the same day.

“We have no waiting times for treatment and we do not apply any exclusion criteria to our services.”

The city has three treatment services – one for people using heroin and other opiate based drugs, one for people using any other drugs, and one for people using alcohol.

The number of people seeking drug treatment in Sheffield has been broadly stable. Six years ago 2,555 people sought treatment and this rose to 2,635 in 2017.

Health chiefs are keeping an eye on Fentanyl, a pain medication which is prescribed but then sold on the streets and mixed with heroin or cocaine.

“Fentanyl is almost certainly not an issue in Sheffield, though we know it is an issue elsewhere in South Yorkshire so it’s something to be watchful of,” said Mr Fell.

“There are many other factors that are influencing what is happening. Polydrug use – where addicts mix drugs – is often an issue.

“Drug related deaths are very mixed in their causes. We have an ever ageing cohort of substance misusers who started in the 1980s and 90s and are now getting complex health problems.”

UKAT fears residential rehabilitation will be cut nationwide but Mr Greg says rapid access to good quality treatment is key. He also says drug users need treatment for other health conditions, not just their addiction.

“We are addressing things that cause death in addicts but are not drug related such as flu, smoking and respiratory problems.

“Respiratory illness is an increasing issue among people using drugs, particularly those who have been, or are, heroin users.

“We have improved services with stop smoking clinics, there is better access to respiratory doctors at hospitals and we are increasing access to flu vaccinations.

“No amount of residential rehabilitation will treat people who need lung or chest treatment because of long term respiratory suppression from smoking and opiate use, plus multiple other conditions. This is not the solution.

“We should rightly be proud of the services we have. They provide excellent service to some of our most vulnerable residents and there is no doubt that they have contributed to transforming lives.”

Support for addicts

An arrest referral and criminal justice team works in the police custody suite identifying people offending due to drug use.

They provide in-reach into prison and give inmates support with release packages, including collection from prison and access to community services, as leaving prison is a high risk time for overdose.

Agencies working with vulnerable people can also have rapid access to the medication Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose and stop people dying.

Public Health also meets with the coroner to review drug deaths.

The impact of budget cuts

Public Health has seen its budget slashed from £40m to £32m in the past four years.

Council chiefs say that money directly relates to health visitors, sexual health workers or drug treatment staff.

“No one is saying cutting drug and alcohol services is a good thing but the government has cut its spending on public health,” said Mr Fell.

“We have protected as far as we can frontline services but there has been a 13 per cent reduction in our budget since 2014.”

Coun George Lindars Hammond, cabinet member for health and social care, said: “There’s not a lot of money to go around and the pressures Sheffield is under are not unusual.

“Because of the reduction in public health grants not every element is going perfectly but it can’t be with the budgets we have been given. All these services are important but unfortunately we can’t invest.

“There is a massive focus on people as well as treatment and making sure it’s not just about getting quick and effective treatment but also about the recovery.

“There is some excellent voluntary and community work going on around the edge too. Alcoholics Anonymous aren’t even a charity and they have no money coming in but give support to many people in our services.”

If you want to speak to someone about drug or alcohol use, you can access free, confidential advice from Sheffield Treatment and Recovery Team by calling 0114 305 0500.