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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Families 'key to drug treatment'
By Mandy Garner

Sally
Sally felt isolated
Sally's husband had been drinking heavily and her son was always asking for money.

One day she turned around and said: "You're just like a drug addict!"

It was only then that her husband told her that he had been bankrolling their son's heroin habit.

She sought help from her GP and a treatment centre, but didn't get it.

Her son had to come off drugs in the family home, where he smashed some of the furniture and had to be kept under constant surveillance.

Sally said Joe's addiction left everyone in the family isolated.

Her husband was depressed and anxious and she felt she had no one to turn to.

"My husband was coping with the situation by not talking about it, but I really needed to.

"I asked a psychiatric nurse who was coming out to see Joe if I could talk to her too, but she said no. I felt so alone: no-one was listening."

Many relatives or partners of drug users feel similarly isolated.

Family inclusion

Living with a drug user can push many people to the edge and have long-term medical implications, including depression.

In the past, the problem has been talked about as if it was a problem for the individual, but the effects on families and communities is huge
Professor Jim Orford

Drug treatment organisations like Adfam have been campaigning for years for families to be included in treatment and at last, their work seems to be paying off.

At a recent Adfam conference, Colin Bradbury, regional manager for the National Treatment Agency, the body set up by the government to improve drug treatment in England, floated the idea that targets should be set for inclusion of families in drug treatment.

Drug workers who have worked with families have seized upon Bradbury's words and say that such targets could make a lot of difference.

They say that inclusion of families not only helps family members, but also increases the chance that drug users will be successfully treated and not relapse.

Policy failures

A report published by the UK Drugs Policy released on Wednesday says the UK's drugs policy has failed amid soaring numbers of drug users.

It comes a month after the Royal Society for the Endowment of the Arts released research which came to similar conclusions and called for radical action.

The RSA report said addiction to drugs and other substances "should be treated as a chronic health condition and a social problem, not simply a crime or a cause of crime" and that "drug users should be treated in the same way as any other chronic disease sufferers".

Drug addiction has a huge range of health implications.

Apart from the risk of overdose, long-term use of hard drugs can cause brain damage, mental health problems, heart disease and stroke.

Many drug workers back radical action. A conference in Bath next month will encourage "out-of-the-box" thinking.

One speaker at the Unhooked Thinking conference is Professor Jim Orford, who has done a huge amount of research into the subject of addiction.

Parents blamed

He says the inclusion of families in drug treatment is patchy around the country, partly for funding reasons but also because the thinking behind drug policy has not been family-oriented.

Investment in drug treatment over the last few years has not necessarily translated into services for families
Adfam

"It blamed parents rather than taking the view that addiction is like some sort of disaster for the family, like a bombshell from outside.

"In the past, the problem has been talked about as if it was a problem for the individual, but the effects on families and communities is huge. It is much more of a family or social problem."

Adfam sees Colin Bradbury's remarks as offering a way forward.

"People have latched on to them with some degree of hope and we will be lobbying quite hard on them," said a spokesman.

"There is very little in terms of family work in lots of parts of the country and investment in drug treatment over the last few years has not necessarily translated into services for families.

But there is a real feeling now that family members need to have some support in their own right regardless of its effect on substance users."

Unpaid helpers

But John Chamberlain, a drugs consultant who is also speaking at the Unhooked Thinking conference, said there was a danger that some services will see family members more as "unpaid helpers" than in need of treatment themselves.

"Quite often they don't say they need help," he said, adding that they can also find it difficult after the person has come off drugs, adjusting to them being more independent.

He was rung up by a man who offered him 15,000 to move in with his 25-year-old daughter to get her off heroin.

"I asked him if he wanted help himself and he said he was okay, but I said is it sane to ring someone and offer a large sum of money to a stranger to move in with your daughter?

"He must have been at his wits' end."




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