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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
City working hard to lose drug habit
by Chris Summers
BBC News, Hull

Kingston-upon-Hull has long had problems with drugs, brought about by a quirk of location coupled with years of social deprivation. But the city is working hard at tackling the problem.

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The port city lost most of its fishing industry in the late 1970s and with it the fish processing factories and dry docks.

This led to high unemployment and the 1980s and 1990s remained a bleak period for this city of 250,000 people perched on the northern lip of the Humber estuary.

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Hull has bounced back in recent years with a critically-acclaimed new aquarium, The Deep, a smart new football and rugby league stadium and a booming telecommunications network.

But beneath the flashy exterior lies a powerful enemy which police, social workers and drug professionals are still battling to overcome - addiction to heroin, and more recently crack.

Drugs workers say these drugs, and others, have a particular hold because the city has a "culture of injecting" - whether hard drugs or even alcohol.

Whisky injected

"'If it's a drug then let's inject it', has always been the thinking," says Claire Cairns, senior co-ordinator of the Hull Drug Action Team (DAT). "Even whisky has been injected, it gets into the bloodstream quicker."

Hull has always had an injecting culture...you would be introduced to heroin by a mate injecting you and then later you would learn to do it yourself
John Meakin
Hull and East Yorkshire Council for Drug Problems

John Meakin, director of the Hull and East Yorkshire Council for Drug Problems, concurs: "You would be introduced to heroin by a mate injecting you and then later you would learn to do it yourself. In the 1990s there was a craze with injecting temazepam."

This culture of injecting has gone hand in hand with social problems to lead to high levels of hard drug use - meaning the city is a magnet for drug dealers from across the country.

Ms Cairns says: "Hull has traditionally been bottom of the league tables for school achievement, which is often a breeding ground for drugs.

Hull city centre
Around 250,000 people live in Hull

"We have high areas of deprivation and unemployment. There are certain parts of the city which are hotspots and they tend to be deprived and with low education standards."

One such area is Wellstead Street in the west of inner city Hull. It is shortly after 10pm and the local mobile police station has just closed for the night.

Half a dozen youths have scored from a dealer who has travelled to the city from Liverpool.

The deal took place out of sight but the youngsters are soon dancing around in full view of the CCTV cameras, preparing to shoot up and shouting at the police: "What are you going to do about it?"

Police action

But Humberside Police are not sitting on their hands. In 2002 they launched a Drugs Policing Initiative (DPI) to tackle the flow of drugs into the city.

It has been remarkably successful, leading to dozens of convictions and taking large amounts of Class A drugs off the streets.

The big thing we have seen in Hull is crack, which has gone from something you never associated with Hull five years ago, to being almost on a par with heroin
Claire Curtis
Hull Drug Action Team
Yet as long as the demand is there the drugs will keep coming and new suppliers will replace the old.

"Ironically, although Hull is a port and lots of drugs no doubt come into the country through Hull, the kingpins are in Leeds and Manchester and the drugs usually go straight there before coming back to Hull," says Ms Cairns.

Reducing supply is just one of the government's four themes for tackling drugs. Another is identifying criminals with drug problems and referring them for treatment.

Better treatment

"Four years ago the treatment services we had were diabolical. They were either voluntary agencies doing their own thing or NHS departments for whom it was not treated as a priority. Things are much better now," says Ms Cairns.

Estimated Class A drug takers: 2,071
Number who inject: 1,020
Number in treatment: 1,240
Source: Hull Drug Action Team
Now drug treatment contracts go to specialists such as Compass, one of Britain's leading service providers.

The DATs, which were set up all over the country in 1996, are at the forefront of this strategy.

In December 2004, in one of his last acts as Home Secretary, David Blunkett merged the DATs with the community safety partnerships, which are responsible for tackling Asbos, neighbourhood renewal, binge drinking and a range of other issues.

Ms Cairns is confident the work being put in by her team and their partners in the police and the treatment services is beginning to bear fruit.

"It would not be true to say that we've cracked it," she says, "but we have decent drug education programmes in schools and are doing a lot of work with people at risk, such as truants.

But Ms Cairns says there is no room for complacency as the situation is shifting all the time.

"The big thing we have seen in Hull is crack, which has gone from something you never associated with Hull five years ago, to being almost on a par with heroin," she says.

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