LettersThe DDN letters page, where you can have your say.

The next issue of DDN will be out on 8 September — make sure you send letters and comments to claire@cjwellings.com by Wednesday 24 August to be included. Letters may be edited for space or clarity – please limit submissions to 350 words.


Vital legacy

Caroline Blackburn’s obituary captures her passion for service user work. Yet other things need to be mentioned.

Advocacy and peer-based work are very much needed today. With resources increasingly under pressure, independent advocacy may be seen as an unaffordable luxury. However, conflicts frequently occur between service users and professionals in addiction treatment. Some remain unresolved – through impasse, drift, unnecessarily bureaucratic pathways/criteria, clinically imposed decisions, communication breakdown or lack of confidence among service users to broach their true feelings about their treatment. 

Such situations will invariably impact negatively on people’s recovery and the overall effectiveness of resources. They only become visible if managers acknowledge that fallibility in treatment conversations is not limited to patients, and invest in independent ways of capturing, counting, expressing and making sure that such issues are present, supported, and understood as a wider measure for service improvement. Some localities did this.

 Advocacy is an art. Caroline had this in bucket-loads and was respected by service users. Her work was grounded in service users’ own experience – while reminding them of their responsibilities. It is a pity that in these hard times, this approach is rarely seen. Perhaps this may not be because of the case for such work, but rather, unwillingness in localities to face up to uncomfortable truths.  Equally though, a lack of capable leaders of service user organisations makes life easy for some to portray everything as rosy.

Caroline was deeply respected. Those close to her understood that she helped change numerous lives for the better. She was a qualified counsellor, and a committed advocate. Readers should perhaps recognise this by critically reflecting on present provision, and continue asking ourselves this important question: Who now independently engages with individual service users’ views about their treatment, and advocates for them – regardless of their treatment goals?

Name and address supplied


Radical talk

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog article about the strained relationship between radical politics and drug dependency. I was reminded of this blog on reading Alistair Sinclair’s excellent article ‘Catching the Wave’.

A bit that I find fascinating is the line ‘we have been discouraged… from looking at the mine itself.’ Discouraged by whom, and why?

Sinclair’s article talks with the passion of a fin de siècle theorist of how we are ‘staring in to an abyss and facing the challenges of modernity’. Radical talk indeed. Almost revolutionary. How well does such radicalism sit alongside 12-step traditions?

While the spaces that the recovery community creates may themselves be apolitical, they are unavoidably located within a wider political context. The political idealism which has driven much of what is now labelled ‘recovery’ has very definite views of canaries and mines and recovery. Once recovered, a canary should very much get itself back down the mine, and become a hard-working canary, especially if it wants any more millet.

Far from critically looking at the society that creates the sickness, the political paymasters are disinterested in healing a sick society rooted in inequality. They want the sick well so that they can go back to being efficient healthy cogs in the machine, but with an adjusted mind-set that allows them to cope with the machine better, in gratitude and humility.

Extracted from ‘Old waves, new waves, permanent waves’ on the KFX drugs blog at www.kfx.org.uk


No quick fix 

Alistair Sinclair makes an interesting analogy about society’s casualties, as canaries in the mine, in his article ‘Catching the Wave’. His idea of looking at the mine itself is bold, even revolutionary in its ambition. In the meantime the widely held therapeutic approach of fixing such casualties and returning them to productive life needs to be challenged for other reasons.

 Many, if not most, problem substance users never had a productive life to return to. Similarly this also applies to concepts of rehabilitation as it implies that such people were habilitated before their problems began.

 So rather than seeking to return these damaged people to productive lives or re-habilitating them, a different approach is needed. Better to begin working with the recognition that they lack important life and social skills, having never known or learned them in their young lives. An assumption that they previously knew how to manage in our ‘sick nation’ or were somehow previously productive is to miss a trick and overlook key deficits, which are maybe why they became ‘canaries’ in the first place.

 The role of canaries has been phased out by different and changing approaches; therapeutic recovery approaches may need to begin from a different place.

Andy Ashenhurst, Canterbury


The way forward

As an ex-drug worker I used to constantly believe in all of this (‘The Buddhist Way’, DDN, July). Unfortunately the best I got out of my agency was to allow yoga once a week, which in itself was amazing for the clients but not enough. Let’s hope this is the true way forward.


On The Buddhist way, July 2014


Get involved!

Consultation is now active for DDN’s annual service user conference, with a steering group meeting taking place in September. We want your ideas on the programme and suggestions for speakers. Never has true SU involvement been more vital and we need to make sure the conference addresses your concerns and reflects your priorities.

Please click here.

We value your input. Please leave a comment, you do not need an account to do this but comments will be moderated before they are displayed...