Charities tackling substance misuse, Kaleidoscope and Anyone's Child, hosted a 'Brecon Take Drugs Seriously' event at Brecon Cathedral on Monday, October 16.
The evening consisted of speeches from Kaleidoscope CEO, Martin Blakebrough, Head of Partnerships from Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Martin Powell, Director of New Business and Services at Cranstoun, Meg Jones, Nadia Rees from Anyone's Child, and James Evans MS for Brecon and Radnorshire.
The panel discussed a range of topics in tackling substance misuse.
A key theme of the evening was the idea of drug consumption rooms following the recent news that Glasgow was given the go-ahead to open up the first drug consumption room in the United Kingdom, allowing substance users to consume their drugs in a safe space with medical experts nearby to look after them and prevent users from overdosing.
Speaking on this topic, Martin Powell, Head of Partnerships from Transform Drug Policy Foundation said: "They are a very simple idea. There are some people who are going to want to use drugs on the streets, alone, in a hostel or somewhere like that and if they overdose, there’s every chance they will die as there is no one around to help them.
"What we believe is that with these overdose prevention centres, if you offer someone a safe space to take drugs, instead of when they come for their syringe exchange and go and use it behind some bins, you can get them to sit down, use it around people who will look after them and put the needle straight in the bin, so there is nothing left on the street. No one is seeing them use it and if there is a problem with someone we can check immediately.
"Most importantly the centres engage users with treatment, whilst they’re sitting there recovering you can offer them a cup of tea, other things to take away, you can start chatting to them and build that relationship because often with people who are completely disengaged, they don’t necessarily trust services, so you need to build that relationship up again.
"The evidence shows that you get more people into treatment, so that means they’re less likely to die, they’re taking less Heroine, they’re taking fewer other drugs as well and they’re probably committing less acquisitive crimes to pay for those drugs, and there’s less money going to organised crime groups as well.
"Less needles will be out on the streets, and it will save a lot of money as well with less health issues, there’s less pressure on health services so ultimately what it will be doing is helping them and helping communities as a whole."
CEO of the event organisers, Kaleidoscope, Martin Blakebrough also spoke about overdose prevention centres, also known as drug consumption rooms. He said: "Instead of having people injecting at a train station, in a park, in public toilets, or outside a local school, I could have a room just by where I’m supplying a syringe and that person could be monitored by you who’s a nurse and that means that needle isn’t going on the streets, it’s not causing anti-social behaviour by seeing someone inject.
"It means someone is kept safe because if they do overdose, I’ve got someone in the OPC (Overdose Prevention Centre) to look after them. I cannot see the logic once I give someone a needle syringe to inject heroine, does it make any sense to ask them to inject it effectively in the park, or in the toilets for no one to see them so if they overdose, where that person may die."
Mr Blakeborough is keen to open an overdose prevention centre in Wales. He said: "What we are committed to do at Kaleidoscope is to do that very thing in Cardiff. We want to use that plan. This is a basic plan, but could the Welsh Government actually allow it? Probably not but all we are asking for is permission to not be arrested which can be granted to us.
"We’re not asking for money, we’ll fund it ourselves, ideally, we’d like some money in the end, but the reality is this is a very low-cost alternative. Do not get carried away with the prices you hear in Scotland of £2.3million to help people, it needs to be virtually nothing.
"We have the space, we have the staff, we need to save people’s lives and I can see if it’s against the law but tolerated by the Police then that is something that Kaleidoscope is committed to doing and can I just remind you that Wales was the first country in the world, certainly in the UK to provide peer 2 peer naloxone, helping people reverse the effects of drugs.
"I believe Wales can be the first country in the UK to provide drug consumption rooms, I really believe that. We are talking about targeting those people who are most in need, who are on our streets so when a police officer comes along and says, ‘you can’t inject here, but you can inject in that safer place there.’
"Let’s keep our schools, let’s keep our communities, let’s keep our people safe and let’s reduce the stigma that drug users have. I believe we can make a difference, we can change things, we just need that last little bit, but don’t arrest us for doing what’s right."
This was followed by speeches from Meg Jones, who is the Director of New Business and Services, Cranstoun, and Nadia Rees from charity, Anyone's Child.
Meg Jones discussed the case for Diamorphine Assisted Treatment, as well as the Glasgow and Middlesborough experiences and the difference it could make to the outlook on drugs in the United Kingdom.
Nadia Rees called for legal control and regulation of the drug market in her speech so that other parents never have to go through the same thing she did after the tragedy of losing her son.
A memorial of 4,517 hand-made forget-me-not flowers for lives lost to drugs in the UK in 2021 was made with visitors being encouraged to make a flower themselves to remember a life lost to or damaged by substance use.
James Evans MS for Brecon and Radnorshire then gave a speech of the view from the Senedd as well as his on views on the substances situation in Wales. He said: "In the Senedd we do take substance misuse extremely seriously, we have a cross-party group for substance misuse that is supported by Kaleidoscope and other charities.
"This is something that we all need to do collectively to try and address reform here in Wales.
"Wales is like many regions around the United Kingdom, we do grapple with the devastating consequences of substance misuse. It devastates are families, it devastates our communities and puts huge pressures on our health service.
"We’ve got overwhelmed treatment centres across Wales, and overwhelmed A&E departments because there’s people in there who shouldn’t be in there. They shouldn’t be there in those services, they should be somewhere else with better access to the treatment they need.
"I don’t like using the word crisis, I think it’s overused, but we do have a drugs crisis here in Wales. When I go out on a Saturday night the amount of younger people, I see taking drugs is absolutely frightening.
"People can get drugs easier than they can get alcohol in pubs; that’s an absolute disgrace. We must do something to educate our younger people around the effects of taking drugs.
"This has to be done in an empathetic way as well, people do not go out and take drugs because they want to; that’s been a misconception for so many years. They don’t go out and take heroin because they want to, they take heroin to mask things that have happened in their life.
"I’m afraid our criminal justice system does nothing to help that, people don’t go out and get the support that they need through fear of being found to be a criminal, that isn’t right in my view and I want to see that change but that’s for the Westminster Government.
"The needle exchange programme has been absolutely game changing to actually helping people who are injecting to make sure they’re using clean needles as it reduces the risk of infection.
"Injection facilities and safe rooms are something that I support, I would much prefer to see someone use a safe room to take their drugs in a safe manner where they can get the help they need and the support they need and potentially be helped off drugs as well. To me it’s a no-brainer and I don’t know why we don’t do it. It’s something I’m very passionate about.
"It is a more compassionate approach that we do need towards drugs and alcohol and all substance misuse and that comes from education, prevention and wrap around systems and de-stigmatisation of people who take drugs. They’re not criminals, they are people."
The evening was rounded off through a question and answer session, with audience members questioning the panel on different ideas.
Following the event, Michael Blakebrough, Kaleidoscope CEO told The Brecon & Radnor Express: "The event was a fantastic opportunity to discuss better ways of helping those who use drugs and alcohol to a destructive level. It was great to have representatives from across Powys including the church, health board, police, county council and third sector partners, plus people who have lived and living experience of problematic drug use.
"The overall significance of the event was to get across that we need to show hope, compassion and care in order to really turn peoples lives around. We are proud that, in Powys, we aren't just following what others are doing in the UK, but in many ways we are leading in treatment and care of those people who have difficulties."