The Middlesbrough heroin assisted treatment (HAT) pilot launched last year (DDN, November 2019, page 5) has had a ‘dramatic impact’, according to the programme’s clinical team lead Daniel Ahmed.
Teesside University has now been given a £60,000 grant to independently evaluate the scheme and its results.
The HAT pilot, the UK’s first, was launched to tackle high rates of street drug deaths and drug litter, remove the health risks associated with street heroin, and divert people away from acquisitive crime and offending behaviour. Since its launch, 14 people for whom all other treatment had failed and were causing ‘most concern’ to criminal justice and health and social care agencies have been accepted on to the programme. Some had been using heroin for more than 20 years.
Participants visit a clinic twice a day to receive a prescribed dose of diamorphine under supervision, and also have access to agencies that can help with health, housing and financial issues. Analysis of six participants who have spent at least 30 weeks on the programme found a 98 per cent attendance rate for the sessions, even throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, while offending levels have plummeted. The six participants had committed more than 540 detected crimes before joining, which has since fallen to a combined total of three lower-level offences. None of the participants are now sleeping rough, and use of other drugs has also fallen.
The scheme, which has been licensed by the Home Office, was launched and partly funded by Cleveland PCC Barry Coppinger using money seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with further funding from Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company. The new research will look at the experiences of people who have ‘completed, discontinued or refused to engage’ with the programme, and will be carried out by Professor Tammi Walker of Teesside University, Professor Graham Towl of Durham University and Dr Magdalena Harris of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Of the original 14 participants, one left voluntarily and two left after committing a crime, while treatment had to be stopped in four cases for medical reasons. The remaining seven are still receiving treatment.
‘New ONS data has shown that the North East is the worst area in the country for drug-related deaths – that is why this work is so important,’ said Walker. ‘Ultimately, we want to reduce the number of drug-related deaths, but also to enhance the quality of life for individuals who are opiate dependant, cut down habit-related offending and reduce the financial cost to society.’
‘This is not a soft option, it’s a smart option,’ added Ahmed. ‘What we are doing is following an evidence base that is producing results. These individuals have been involved in the criminal justice system and part of tough sentencing regimes during their lives and it has not been effective. Through this pilot we have seen dramatic changes in individuals’ lives. That’s had a dramatic impact on the local community in terms of reduction in crime, increase in social stability and a reduction in anti-social behaviour, so a real positive across the whole board.’