Even in the most difficult circumstances recovery is always possible, says Jody Leach.
We are a local charity supporting those struggling with addiction across Essex and Kent. Together with our main substance misuse provisions, some of the other projects we also deliver to support vulnerable populations include our work within a specialised women’s refuge, the Essex Appropriate Adult service, our targeted housing support service and our ‘SOS Bus’ services.
Mirroring previous articles on the ‘new normal’ of delivering substance misuse provision at this time, the pandemic and its restrictions have had an unprecedented impact on all our services and how we have been able to evolve to continue supporting those most vulnerable. While it’s hard not to, rather than detail all the amazing work our teams, wider treatment system partners and the local community have undertaken to help continue supporting our service users, I feel it’s important to share the voice of some of those service users and examples of positive recovery at this uncertain time.
Coping with change
For the majority of those we support, change is not popular and can be anxiety provoking at the best of times. We have worked tirelessly to help manage the imposed uncertainty that the pandemic has created, by continuing to offer the structure and support that is normally provided as standard. We have been impressed with how our service users have accepted and adapted to the required changes – not only have they worked with us to support our teams, many have told us that elements of our new ways of working are actually preferred to practices we had been doing for some time. COVID-19’s impact is tragic, but we are indebted to our service users for their investment in what we do to share these valuable insights. The following examples highlight how the measures we have taken over the last three months have been experienced positively by those using our services.
In response to many refuges excluding those with substance misuse needs, we deliver a specialist service within a refuge to ensure these vulnerable women are supported into potential recovery. One of our service users told us that while being addicted at any time in life was difficult, ‘adding COVID-19 to the situation poses a whole new dimension to overcome. Having resided at a women’s refuge since January, I have had first-hand knowledge of the detrimental effect COVID-19 has had on others. Lockdown has taught me that I can be patient and content with my own company and it has pushed me to try and learn new things.
‘I am very lucky to be working with Open Road and my worker has been nothing short of brilliant,’ she continued. ‘She has thought of me at every turn and introduced me to meetings all over the county, including many new opportunities. She is fully aware I am not a huge fan of attending meetings, so having Zoom meetings has actually aided my recovery journey and allowed me to meet others all over the county in similar situations as myself. The amount of pressure Open Road have endured in the current pandemic must have been monumental, and without any previous experience to draw on, they have been fantastic.’
Our Appropriate Adult (AA) service supports many held in custody with additional substance misuse needs. We are proud to have continued delivering this crucial support throughout the lockdown – despite its challenges – thanks to the passion and commitment of our teams. Essex Police’s custody commander said of the service, ‘Of a special note is the fact that Open Road have continued to provide support to detainees – something that is almost unique in my experience in the AA world at this present time.’
Given the impact of the lockdown on the night-time economy, our usual SOS Bus services have not been needed. Instead, in collaboration with the local council, our staff used the service’s minibuses to transport local homeless residents to temporary accommodation.
Our housing support service has been extremely busy supporting service users that are being negatively impacted further by the pandemic. One was referred into the service following the death of his brother whose funeral he was unable to finance. Our worker liaised with the relevant housing association and welfare rights advisor to enable the tenancy to be transferred, and an intensive package of support was made available. Had this work not been undertaken, our service user would have remained isolated and alone during a heartbreaking situation that was made all the more difficult by social movement restrictions. The implications for his ongoing recovery are obvious, but we are happy to report that he is continuing to do well with his reduction in substitute prescribing and abstinence from illicit drug use.
One of our young service users has particularly struggled during lockdown and found it hard to get into the new routine of not seeing friends at school and being at home constantly. He is classified as high risk as he self-harms regularly and feels he can’t disclose his self-harm experiences to other professionals. He now looks forward to the increased telephone and video calls from his worker that are helping him to manage his self-harming and drug-using behaviours.
This example highlights the recovery-focused passion that our workers continue to share despite the circumstances, and how we are always trying to put the needs of our service users first. One of our workers spent time speaking with a treatment-naïve individual that just happened to be waiting in the street for a friend that was attending an appointment with our service. This person was street-homeless and had been using heroin and crack since the age of 14. Despite the strict guidelines in place to avoid transmission, the worker was able to safely organise an initial assessment, as she felt that if the person was offered a time to return the opportunity may be missed for them to follow through on their apparent desire to access treatment.
He was extremely grateful for this quick thinking and left the service with his first-ever prescription for substitute medication, and was also issued with – and accepted – naloxone. He was supported to register with a GP and referred into OCAN [Offenders with Complex & Additional Needs] provision and the DWP to access benefit assistance.
It will get better
One of our recovery support service users perfectly sums up how they have experienced our response during the lockdown: ‘I miss everyone at Open Road and can see how important the service is even more now through the COVID-19 pandemic. I have always isolated myself and shut myself away, feeling like a burden or a pathetic weak person who cannot even sort themselves out. Open Road helps me to feel like I am able and can try again and not give up.’
To our fellow service providers and service users who may be reading this, things will get better. Until this new normal allows us to fully resume helping even more people struggling with addiction, we will keep trying to showcase to others that recovery continues to be a possibility for anyone that seeks support at this most unusual time.