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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Treating causes of drug addiction
By James Lynn
BBC News, Newcastle

School children
Regular truants are at high risk of using drugs, according to research

At first glance it might seem that the North East's drugs problem is getting worse.

According to the National Drug Monitoring System - the agency which collects and analyses information from those involved in the drug treatment sector - more people are being treated for drug addiction across the region than ever before.

In County Durham and the Tees Valley the figure rose by 650 between April 2005 and March 2006, and by 509 across Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.

Evidence, some might say, that the authorities are fighting a losing battle against such killers as heroin and crack cocaine.

'Great success'

But, according to those at the front line of drugs treatment, the figures tell a different story.

Janice Chandler manages South Tyneside's Drug Action Team, one of 12 teams across the region which she says have achieved a great level of success.

"It's easy to think that the more people we treat, the more people there are with a problem, but that isn't the case," she said.

Heroin paraphernalia
Heroin dealing is a problem on some estates in the North East
"In fact, on South Tyneside there's been no significant increase in the number of young people using drugs. We're simply reaching more people than we ever did before, helping more people.

"Since I started working in drugs prevention seven years ago, we've become much better at seeing the problems. There's been a substantial increase in the amount of funding we get and we've been able to do a lot of research.

"For example we've identified that 75% of young drug users regularly play truant from school, and that 70% had been placed in care, so a big part of our work is raising awareness in schools.

"We're also working closely with vulnerable groups such as homeless people."

'Definite fallout'

Drug Action Teams are spearheading the fight against drugs on a community level.

They include members from the police and Probation Service, as well as representatives from education, social services and housing.

It is this "inter-agency" co-operation that DC Paul Sadler of Northumbria Police says is really making sure that everyone affected by drugs gets the help they need.

"This is something I feel very strongly about," he said.

"If you do a series of hits on an estate the treatment teams have got to be involved.

Man living rough
Homeless people are also highly vulnerable to drug addiction

"There's a definite fallout if you take out a number of dealers. Everyone should be involved: the housing people, the social services.

"If a particular estate has a problem with heroin and the older kids are involved then the younger kids will probably be involved too, mostly because they are carrying.

"It's so important that everyone involved gets help. Yes, we're there to take out the dealers but we're also there to help everyone affected by the drugs."

It is thanks to this co-operation, says DC Sadler, that month on month, almost without exception, the number of people receiving drugs treatment across the North East has gradually increased.

In April 2005, 7,082 people across the region were receiving treatment. By March 2006 this figure had risen to 8,237.

If this continues, it could break the 10,000 mark by 2008.

Some will see this figure as damning evidence of the extent to which drugs have permeated our society.

But if - as in the case of South Tyneside - the number of young people using drugs is not currently increasing, then perhaps it is also an indication that the situation might no longer be spiralling out of control.


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