Derry could become central location in Northern Ireland for addiction treatment

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Derry can, with the right investment, be the central location in Northern Ireland for the treatment of addiction, according to the head of treatment at the Northlands Addiction Treatment Centre.

Tommy Canning spoke to the Journal as the centre hosted a visit by one of the UK’s leading experts on addiction, Professor Dame Carol Black.

The centre’s ‘Knowledge Exchange Series 2023’ was launched on Wednesday in Ulster University’s Magee campus, with an inaugural lecture by Professor Black, who also visited the site on Culmore Road on which Northlands hopes to build its new centre of excellence.

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The visit took place just days before the third anniversary of the publication of the New Decade/New Approach agreement, which promised £1M funding for Northlands’ proposed new addiction treatment centre, which was first mooted over a decade ago.

Professor Black, third from left, with Northlands representatives and others at the site of the planned new facility.Professor Black, third from left, with Northlands representatives and others at the site of the planned new facility.
Professor Black, third from left, with Northlands representatives and others at the site of the planned new facility.

Tommy said the new centre must be delivered sooner rather than later, as the current centre is not fit for purpose.

He outlined how the Department of Health is currently undertaking a population-based needs assessment in the Western Trust and a review of Tier 4 services, of which they are one.

"We have to wait for all that and the department could then make a decision to spend that £1M elsewhere. That money isn’t in the bank accounts yet. But, there has been a commitment to it and we’ll stand by that."

While the £1M would be very much welcomed, it will not build what is needed.

Northlands Addiction Treatment CentreNorthlands Addiction Treatment Centre
Northlands Addiction Treatment Centre

The vision for the centre will cost in the region of around £20M capital, before resources are put in place.

Next month, a bid for funding under the PEACE fund will be submitted and they are hopeful this will be successful.

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Tommy outlined how increased funding and services are crucial ‘as everything out there is telling us that the need is growing’.

The residential service of eight beds regularly has a waiting list and the non-residential services ‘is as busy as ever, if not busier’.

One of the unique elements of the Derry-based centre is that it doesn’t just work with the person who is receiving treatment for addiction, they also support their family.

"One of the things we have is a family illness talk and it’s that idea that if you live in a family where there is addiction, you cannot be untouched. It has a real ripple out effect on family members, as well as employers, friends, extended family, children in school, domestic violence, crime and the justice system etc and again, we feel that it’s not just about helping the person themselves to get well, its about supporting everyone.”

Tommy outlined how the focus is on ‘breaking that cycle’ and that too is one of the elements that creates the ‘bigger picture’ for a new centre.

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All at the Northlands Centre were excited to invite Professor Black to discuss her expertise and research and share knowledge.

He said the visit came about following Professor Black’s report relating to accessibility of treatment, high quality treatment, researching and funding residential treatment services, high quality aftercare and thorough care, which ‘are all things we feel we have been doing for many years, so to have someone with a review of that weight to support what you’ve been doing for so long is great and it was important that we invited her here.”

“She was keen to see what Northlands was about and she’s here to tell us about her work and how addiction should be treated in the same vein as other conditions and how the understanding of addiction needs to be increased.”

Tommy said that for this to happen, there is still work to do in breaking down the stigma of addiction.

"When most people think of addiction, their first thought is the drug user with a needle hanging out of their arm. But, we see people from all walks of life and places here.”

Addiction, said Tommy, ‘is not a choice’ and it should be funded in line with other health issues.

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"There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be and the irony is that research tells us that for every £1 invested in addiction services, it saves £4 for the economy.”

“We also know that if you’re born into an area of social and economic deprivation, you’re four times more likely to be an addict so there’s an onus on the government to fund areas in Northern Ireland, like Derry and Strabane, who are high up on that list, to make changes here and to reduce the issue of addiction.”

He added that there is no reason why Derry cannot be seen as the location where, ‘if you need help with your addiction, no matter where you live in Northern Ireland, that’s the place to go.”

"Northlands does it well. We’ve the idea of the new centre as being a beacon on the hill. If we’re serious about making a change to society we have to bring addiction into the light and main stream and understand that people are suffering, There’s no joy in addiction.”

But he added, as they continuously see at Northlands, with the right support, recovery is possible.

See the centre’s helpline number at 028 71313232 Email: [email protected].