‘Help for Camden addicts is on their doorstep’

�The death last month of Amy Winehouse sparked a national debate about treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and whether enough is being done to help young addicts.

Dr John Dunn has spent the past eight years working as the clinical lead for substance misuse in Camden. He also works as the associate clinical director responsible for Pentonville prison and as the clinical lead for South Westminster Drug and Alcohol Service.

He believes that the current debate about drug treatments is misleading and that, in Camden, there are the resources and services to treat people, particularly adults.

“There is funding for people to go into residential detox,” said Dr Dunn. “Generally there’s a perception that it’s more difficult than it is.

“Drug services themselves tend to be quite discreet. Most people don’t know about them. Sometimes that’s important so that we don’t cause problems for our neighbours. But people might not realise how much is out there.

“Users will often hear through word of mouth but perhaps their family won’t know who to turn to.”

In Camden, between 1400 and 1,500 adults are treated for drug-related problems each year and about 500 people receive treatment for alcohol-related problems.

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About two thirds of those who are treated at the Margarete Centre, where Dr Dunn works, are male. He treats adult drug addicts aged 18 upwards, and the largest group is in their late 20s to early 30s.

The main drugs for which which addicts present themselves for treatment in Camden borough are heroin and crack – a form of cocaine which is chemically altered so that users can smoke it – as well as cannabis and ketamin.

Addicts can self-refer to the Margarete Centre, in Hampstead Road, Euston, and many do. There is another clinic in Daleham Gardens, Swiss Cottage, which is attached to the GP practice.

Patients are usually seen on the same day as they walk in the door and will start a community treatment programme within two weeks.

Referral to a residential centre can take up to four weeks and most are outside London.

City Road in Islington is a crisis detox centre for drug addicts and Rugby House in Holborn takes patients suffering from acute alcoholism. There are also a number of residential rehabilitation centres on the south coast in Bournemouth, Plymouth and Bristol.

But Dr Dunn said patients have mixed views on the fact that they may have to travel outside London to a residential detox centre. “Some feel they have to break away from the area and have a fresh start. Others find it difficult to move away, especially if they have strong family ties,” he said.

For heroin addicts, the most common treatment is a substitute such as methadone or subutex which dull the cravings addicts have for heroin.

There is no substitute for crack. All addicts will also be offered talking therapy and medical treatment for drug-related problems, such as skin infections caused by injecting themselves.

Dr Dunn says that overcoming addiction is a long-term project and many addicts will relapse over several years before reaching total abstinence. Sadly, about one per cent of addicts nationally will die from drug-related symptoms.

But he maintains that treatment has improved for addicts during the past decade. “One of the great things that’s happened over the past 10 years is that there has been a significant expansion in drugs services which has led to a reduction in drugs-related crime,” he said.