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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Wake-up call after heroin deaths
Drug paraphernalia (generic)

The deaths of 11 young people over the summer four years ago was a wake-up call in Wales.

All of the deaths in the south Wales valleys were due to heroin being brought in from across Offa's Dyke.

Senior police officers warned of communities being "ripped apart" as vulnerable young people fell victim to ever cheaper and more available drugs.

A Wales-wide police operation, Tarian, was created and the Home Secretary pledged more money and help.

It has by no means eliminated street heroin - still the most high-profile drug problem - in Wales, but it has led to claims of a far more joined-up approach by the police and the public and charity sector agencies which deal with the fall out.

OPERATION TARIAN
Seized 120kg cocaine in 2003
Sentences topping 100 years
Chasing assets of 1m

In the past year alone, Operation Tarian has led to prison sentences adding up to more than 100 years for offenders caught by Wales' four police forces sharing intelligence on Class A drug dealers and organised crime.

In the summer of 2003, the 50-strong team seized 120kg of cocaine in Newport, with a street value of 8m.

And in 2004, officers seized 24kg of Class A drugs, with a street value of 400,000, while the assets recovery team is currently chasing goods and property worth another 1m.

On the human side, too, police and policy makers are claiming progress.

Four years ago families with drug-addicted sons - and it is mostly sons - were complaining that even with a referral to a drug treatment programme, it could easily be 18 months before their loved one had any expert practical help.

Anita Walters and Christopher Walters
Anita Walters said her son's problems 'tore her family apart'

The help offered to those with habits to kick was said to be patchy and there was little agreement on which treatments worked best.

The Welsh Assembly Government is now increasing the funding for drug treatment programmes by 550% between 2002 to 2008, a higher percentage than in England. So far, almost 2,900 extra drug treatment places have been created.

It is welcome news for people like Anita Walker, in Aberdare, in the Cynon Valley.

Her son Christopher started taking drugs at the age of 12. By his 20s he was a heroin addict.

His mother became used to the police kicking open her front door and people in her small valleys community talking about her in the street.

Hearts-and-minds

She said: "It was tearing my family apart and having a knock-on effect on the community.

"You were living with shame all the time. When you went out, people talked about you.

"One day, I decided to do something about it. I got a group of mothers together who were going through the same thing as myself."

That group was Fads, Family Awareness and Drugs Support. It offers advice and support to families with a drug user, and now has funding from the assembly government's Communities First programme for an office.

It is part of the heart-and-minds approach of Tarian, now called Tarian+, and more such groups are planned.

But it is not yet clear if the combination of crackdown and counselling is having an effect on the bottom line of the human tragedy of heroin abuse - drug-related deaths.

The last available figures from the Office for National Statistics recorded 83 drug-related deaths in 2003, slightly down on the 89 recorded the year before.

The figure had more than doubled from under 40 in 1993 and 1994 to more than 80 for the last four recorded years. But the figures might be much higher.

The Welsh Assembly Government is developing its own system for collating the figures but back in November 2002 the then South Wales Police Chief Constable, Tony Burden, reported some 270 people had died from hard drugs in south Wales in 2000.

The same report estimated there were 8,750 drug addicts within the Gwent Police, South Wales Police and Dyfed-Powys Police force areas, with 32,000 "recreational" drug users.




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