Shortly after graduating from Healthcare Studies at Birmingham City University I began to grow an interest in the field of addiction.
At the time I had no experience of working in psychotherapy or addiction services. In all honesty had little or no understanding of what a “drug and alcohol service” provided.
This was in early 2006.
I set about making inquiries and writing to several different organisations in the Midlands region. The internet at that time was not as widely used as it is today, so my original inquiries were actually sent out by mail.
I was asking a number of organisations if they had an opportunity for any volunteer work and if they wouldn’t consider my application, could they tell me what I needed to get in terms of experience. My studies in Healthcare was a start but I knew it wasn’t enough to work effectively in the field of addiction.
The first organisation to respond was the Dudley Drug Project (now defunct, but a service is now run by CCI).
They were delighted I was showing an interest and advised me to take a course in addiction at Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham.
I was very fortunate that a course was due to begin in a matter of weeks, so I enrolled for a night-class in Addiction.
At the age of 23 years old I was definitely the youngest in the class, most of the class consisted of people who were already working in other services who were brushing up on their knowledge of drugs and addiction.
I found the course very interesting and exciting, I was able to combine my knowledge of healthcare and clinical practices perfectly with the course. It really fueled my ambition to work more in the field . Once the course was complete I went on to work voluntarily for the project as well as starting up a volunteer position for Aquarius in Solihul (a service still running I am glad to say).
As a volunteer I wanted to absorb as much information as possible, so I listened to the clients, my peers and professionals in the field with keen attention. I was quite surprised how much I learned in the field, every day was a huge learning experience. There were some very skilled and experienced staff members, but where I really learned was from the clients themselves.
Unbeknown to myself I wasn’t really aware that Dudley had a huge heroin problem, not only a large amount of heroin uses per capita (in 2006) but also a huge heroin injecting culture. It’s not something Dudley is famous for but the service for clean needles in the area was in huge demand, harm reduction practices had been showing excellent results in reducing infections and over-doses. I learned a lot from talking to the clients about their experiences.
Until I actually worked with the drug using clients I wasn’t really aware of what a huge spectrum of clients were using heroin and our service. To be honest, I assumed it would be people who were mostly unemployed who had to steal in order to acquire money for drugs. However this probably made up around 30% of our clients, the majority of people using the service were actually in work, only a very small minority were street homeless.
In 2006 we were coming to the end of the Labour government’s ten year plan in order to meet the demands of a growing drug problem. In a nutshell their ten year plan was to reduce use of drugs through educating children, stopping the flow of drugs into the country and providing effective treatment, it all sounded good on paper but there were some rather confusing elements along the way. The agenda of the project at that time was to get people in through harm reduction methods, offer advice and information, sometimes script them and then if they wanted to enter a day program they could.
These were rather strange times in the field. The Labour government, based on evidence, reduced cannabis from a class B drug to a class C drug – which meant the penalties for possession and supply were greatly decreased. However in 2009, cannabis was re-upgraded to a class B drug. 2009 was also the year that the Labour government sacked Professor David Nutt for interpenetrating the Home Office data supplied to him by the government. He famously said at the time that taking ecstasy was as dangerous as riding a horse. I don’t agree entirely, I think there are more psychologically risky elements to taking MDMA. I have read studies that show repeated use cause disturbances in stress hormones and there is of course an over-dose potential.
Following the end of Labour’s ten year plan in 2007 it was widely considered to be somewhat of a failing, but I feel their biggest failing was around 2009 for sacking David Nutt and relying on hearsay and gut feelings rather than science.
Politics aside, this really kindled my interest in the field of addiction and within a few months I took on a full time position at Aquarius in Northampton.
My interest in counseling and the psychology of addiction continued unabated.