Other professionals join Cllr Charman in offering suggestions

A GP practising in Hastings

Illicit drugs – both those described as ‘recreational’ like marijuana and cannabis, and harder, more addictive opiates like cocaine and heroin – are obviously harmful to health. They change the way brains operate, and change cognitive processes. Those people who become addicted generally suffer from serious emotional problems, often arising from traumatic home lives, a disintegrated family or other inadequate parenting, and no good role models. Criminalisation isn’t the answer.

There is no medical fix without proper mental health care and support. But I believe that addicts would be much more receptive to psychiatric help that’s offered, in particular more persuadable to undertake the hard work of weaning themselves off their dependency if their immediate anxieties are relieved. So security of supply, legality, and a safe and clean environment where drugs were administered under medical supervision, would be a good starting point.

I would like to see money spent on setting up drug consumption rooms where people are given supervised access to drugs they are addicted to but also receive in-depth psychiatric help from well-trained and experienced psychiatrists and psychologists. 

A mental health nurse formerly practising in Hastings 

I second the idea of drugs rooms. People withdrawing or managing substance use need care and therapeutic community relation-ships, not more punitive inter-actions than they’ve already had. There is plenty of evidence from other countries in Europe that assisting addicts to make their habit less dangerous, both to themselves and to the society around them, works better than hounding them through the courts. 

In Portugal, for instance, they decriminalised, and used the money that had been spent on legal prosecutions both on provision of safe spaces and on creation of opportunities for meaningful occupations such as apprentice-ships. Substance abuse went down, work went up.

A recently retired JP 

In the Magistrates’ Court we regularly see defendants with the worst drug addictions which lead them to commit crimes such as serial shoplifting. 

It’s an open secret that the sentencing options open to us are often all unsatisfactory: fines cannot be paid; short prison sentences resolve nothing; probation requirements such as unpaid work can rarely be carried out by people with serious addiction problems. We can, however, make rehabilitation orders in the form of Drug Rehabilitation Requirements (DRRs), combined with Treatment Requirements where there are mental health or alcohol addiction issues. 

Drugs workers rightly tell us that DRRs should be reserved for people who are ready to make the journey from addiction – or at least give it their best shot. I would like to see that, where they are issued, the resources are there to make the rehab as effective as it can be. It often needs to be accompanied by counselling on related issues, such as debt, housing and mental health. Money allocated to statutory and voluntary bodies, working with probation, who can support addicts trying to make the transition, could be well spent.

A mental health counsellor practising in Hastings

Alcohol and drug dependency, whether on hard or softer drugs, contributes a large proportion of mental health problems in Hastings. But all services – psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses and general social services – have had budgets squeezed in recent years. The dedicated agencies like STAR and the Seaview Centre are clearly underfunded. Opportunities for recovery through long term attendances at AA, NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings or expensive rehab places are also limited. The result is that those with drink and drugs problems overwhelm day-care group work to the detriment of those with other mental health issues need. So proper funding to address drugs issues would help them too. 

As a Hastings resident, I would like to see police focus on narrow alleyways and corners used by known drugs suppliers. These meeting places for ‘drops’ soon become latrines and rubbish tips, which in current lockdown circumstances lead to others copying the behaviour, for example delivery drivers.

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