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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Getting rehabilitation right
Dave Roberts of the Independence Initiative
Dave Roberts believes in one-on-one treatment
Police chiefs have called for heroin and cocaine users to be sent for treatment, rather than be prosecuted. BBC News Online's Chris Hamilton looks at how one successful drug rehab centre works in practice.

Dave Roberts runs an innovative drug rehabilitation centre in Liverpool and he welcomes a call by police chiefs for treatment to take priority over punishment for addicts who commit crime.

His unit, called the Independence Initiative, has had 1,500 "substance misusers" of every description on its books since 1996, of who an estimated 95% have avoided relapse.

Independence Initiative
Since 1996 worked with 1,500 referrals
Over 300 gone on to further education or training
Over 100 gone on to jobs
Relapse avoided by 95% of active clients
Catchment area grown from south Sefton to whole of Merseyside
That figure, he believes, makes it one of the most successful rehab centres in the country.

"We think our success isn't down to anything special, there's no magic formula, but for us what makes the difference is one-on-one work with individuals," Mr Roberts told BBC News Online.

Throughout the varied programme offered to help substance misusers, traditional group work is eschewed in favour of face-to-face involvement at every stage.

Mr Roberts believes this makes people far more likely to stay the course, avoid relapse and eventually find the job, education or training that many have never had.

Action plan

The Independence Initiative only takes on people referred to it by key workers such as GPs or community drug teams, which include probation officers and psychiatric nurses.

An action plan is drawn up for each person covering short, medium and long term goals.

If a long term aim is to get a degree, for example, it will be broken down to identify immediate things that can be achieved quickly such as improving literacy.

Initiative funding
Set up under City Challenge project with two years of state funding
Current annual budget 650,000
Cash sources now include health, social and probation services, expanding horizons, HAZ and arrest referral scheme
All matched with EU social funding
Social skills are worked on with a scheme called "befriendermentoring".

As part of the scheme staff act like friends in activities such as going to the cinema or pool hall or, if they are agoraphobics, simply visiting them at home.

A key aim is to help recovering addicts avoid situations with potential for relapsing, particularly contact with friends or family who misuse drugs.

That can be one of the hardest parts of the centre's work.

"It's very difficult to break with all of our past," said Mr Roberts.

"It's a bit like getting a new identity with the CIA or something, but sometimes that's necessary and that's what we have to ask them to do."

Sleep teaching

To help recovering addicts relax and to keep their minds occupied complementary treatments such as aromatherapy, tai-chi and music coaching are offered alongside more traditional counselling.

Teaching people how to sleep normally is often another important task. Practical skills such as literacy, numeracy, music, DIY and technology are also on offer.

"It's a whole range of strategies to help them live in the mainstream world with the rest of us because many of them have been outside that mainstream world for a decade or two," said Mr Roberts.

"The aim is to help them fill time with something and also to give them aspirations and skills to help them move into the mainstream, to get them into college or thinking of themselves as workers - often for the first time."

Variety of abuse

Addicts come to them from every background.

Some have degrees, others never completed school. Some have mis-used everything from alcohol to glue to prescription drugs to 'street' drugs like cocaine and heroin, others have only been exposed to one.

This is another reason why the Independence Initiative works one-to-one: all those referred to it have little in common beyond substance mis-use.

But, Mr Roberts stresses, there is one thing they do share.

"They're all nice people at the end of the day. Once you take them out of the context of why they've come to us they're just like you and me."

 VOTE RESULTS
Drug addicts: What is the best approach?

Treatment
 87.93% 

Prosecution
 12.07% 

2096 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Drug laws
Should addicts be treated or prosecuted?
See also:

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