‘Get political’: The Recovery Walk
During the last 12 months we have seen unprecedented levels of disinvestment in treatment and recovery support services and the highest levels of drug-related deaths ever recorded. Despite Recovery Month this September, we celebrated the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions.
Taking part in September’s Recovery Month reinforces the positive message that behavioural health is essential to overall health; that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover. More people than ever before across the UK organised local events, celebrating the fact that recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a lived reality in their lives and that demand for our advocacy and training services has continued to grow.
As austerity continues it is becoming apparent that the state can no longer guarantee effective, high quality treatment for all and we are hearing of funding cuts to services in England of up to 40 per cent. There has never been a more important time for recovery communities to stand up, speak out and become politically engaged. We need to highlight the fact that every day in the UK people in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs volunteer their time to help others and make their communities better places to live. They are truly one of the greatest assets local communities have.
We received significantly less sponsorship funding for the UK Recovery Walk than in previous years and yet it was the biggest and best so far, with more than 6,000 people in long-term recovery and their friends and families. A special thank you to all of this year’s sponsors and our amazing team of more than 300 volunteers who enabled us to be custodians of the famous UK Recovery Walk. We look forward to seeing you next year in Blackpool!
Annemarie Ward, Faces and Voices of Recovery UK. View FAVOR UK’s short film challenging negative stereotypes and stigma at www.facesandvoicesofrecoveryuk.org
‘Let’s connect’: Recovery community
The fifth annual Lufstock event took place for three days, bringing families of the recovery community together for a camping weekend. The 250 people who attended connected as a community, creating strong friendships and lasting memories.
This followed Lancashire User Forum (LUF)’s ten-year anniversary event in Preston, attended by service users, volunteers, treatment providers, and other interested parties. It was broadcast live by BBC Radio Lancashire’s Sally Naden and Brett Davison, but the format of this special occasion was devised by the service users. As part of a packed agenda, we hosted the spoken word artist, Steve Duncan, who composed a unique poetry performance especially for our anniversary.
Not only was the event a resounding success; it also provided an open forum where professionals were scrutinised in regard to the landscape of the LUF over the next ten years. It built on the notion of hearing the service user’s voice and having a positive impact on all recovery communities.
Meloney Hafeji, Red Rose Recovery
‘Team spirit’: Recovery Games
More than 400 people from all over Yorkshire and Lancashire came to celebrate being drug and alcohol free at the third annual Recovery Games – an initiative from Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) and The Alcohol and Drug Service (ADS), under the newly launched partnership of Aspire.
The games link to the five ways to wellbeing and offer an exciting platform for people in treatment and recovery and those working with them to have fun and build on the principles of connecting with each other in new ways without substances. They offer a chance to learn new skills and ways of communication, while giving time, effort and money to worthwhile causes.
They show what recovery can feel like and create momentum through forming a giant conga through the ‘festival of colour’. And most of all they show that there’s nothing better than being active, getting out and about,and feeling alive, when you’ve been stuck in a rut like Groundhog Day.
The day had a strong family theme, supporting active recovery in community and family structures. Health professionals from across services came to deliver information on cancer awareness, smoking cessation and healthier eating, as well as offering prizes. There were activities for the children – although everyone let their inner child play out on the day!
Competitors took part in canoeing, climbing and many other events on giant inflatable arenas at the local activity centre. Teams of ten from all parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire entered events throughout the day, creating a spirit of competition combined with support. The weather was fantastic, which drew in the local crowds to cheer everyone on. There was music and live entertainment throughout, with an amazing festival of colour at midday, involving all the teams.
Money from the day was raised for the Aurora cancer charity and presented to them at the New Beginnings open day and graduation on 28 September.
Stuart Green and Neil Firbank, Aspire, www.aspire.community
‘Naloxonesaves lives’: OD Awareness Day
Drug fatalities have overtaken fatalities due to road accidents for the first time, representing a public health issue of growing proportions. In response to this, and to International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August, we held three events in Greater Manchester, with a particular focus on raising awareness that naloxone saves lives.
An awareness event in HMP Manchester saw 25 inmates with a history of opioid use take part in animated discussions. All participants signed up for training on naloxone and will as a result receive kits on leaving prison. This generated much discussion among prisoners, wardens and other prison staff, with the goal of normalising overdose prevention as part of the prison’s regime.
A mixture of commissioners, service providers and frontline workers attended a similar event chaired by Hayden Duncan of Emerging Futures. Hayden recalled the successful deployment of naloxone across the West Midlands during his time as Public Health England regional manager, and challenged the North West, ‘the home of harm reduction’, to step up and take action in relation to drug-related deaths.
Finally, a public awareness event was held in the centre of Manchester. Undeterred by lashing rain, members of the Greater Manchester Recovery Federation (GMRF), and other activists, collapsed in the street and came back to life to reveal ‘Naloxone Saves Lives’ t-shirts – simple but effective, generating a great deal of interest, and basic information on naloxone was also distributed.
All good – but what emerged at every event was just how little awareness there is, not just about naloxone, but overdose prevention itself. Even those who have experienced one or multiple overdoses lack the basic knowledge to prevent drug-related deaths. Perhaps even more shocking, many of the actions people would take in overdose situations could actually make matters worse.
Despite legislation designed to widen the availability of naloxone, its distribution is patchy. Many treatment services are stepping up to the mark, but most overdoses occur among populations who are not currently engaged in treatment. Many people lacked a basic understanding of what naloxone is and what it does; however, offsetting this was the sheer willingness of people to learn about, be trained in and carry naloxone.
Perceived divisions between those who support a harm reduction or a recovery approach should not get in the way of this. These divisions are largely political and do not represent the view of recovery communities who, as part of their own health and wellbeing, have a desire to support people in any way they can.
Resources are tight, those outside treatment services may be seen as harder to reach and there are many competing issues around the health agenda. However, we have recovery champions, peer mentors or volunteers in every treatment service, many active recovery communities around the country and staff within services more than willing to go the extra mile. Why are we not mobilising this huge resource?
The events in Greater Manchester were a success on many levels – awareness was raised, myths were busted and people were engaged. A Greater Manchester Naloxone Action Group was born and will push the agenda forward. However, to make a dent in the figures we need to see a more proactive approach nationally, and people could do worse than look to the West Midlands for how to do this.
Michaela Jones, in2recovery; and the Greater Manchester Recovery Forum