Poignant account of Northlands user quoted as Eastwood urges release of £1m for Derry addiction services
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The SDLP leader paid tribute to the work of volunteers at the long-standing Derry addiction centre on Wednesday.
He told MPs how in the past five years over a thousand people with alcohol and drug issues completed six week residential programmes at the Northlands Addiction Centre while over ten thousand non-residential counselling slots had also been delivered.
He was speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on delivering on the ‘New Decade New Approach’ commitments to a Derry addiction centre which he had specifically requested.
The Foyle MP quoted directly from a service user of the centre, which, he pointed out, ‘has served the people of our city for almost 50 years’.
The testimony from one service user, encapsulating the human agony of addiction, was read directly by Mr. Eastwood as follows: “My mother on one side of me crying her heart out, my elder sister on the other side with a Kleenex in one hand and her head in another.
"I didn't know how I felt. I didn't know how to feel. I was numb. No tears, no emotions. Just nothingness. All I could do was stare at a spot on the carpet and try not to look up at the hurt and pain in my mum's face.
"That was over two years ago and thankfully I haven't had to lift a drink since I came here. Today though I can feel, I can cry, I can see what my mother and sister meant all that time ago.
"I can see for myself the hurt and the pain and the despair my drinking was causing my family and myself. Today the difference is I can do something about it.
"I am learning about myself and this horrible disease every day of the week and today, anyway, I didn't drink and for me as an alcoholic that is a miracle. The treatment in Northlands, along with Alcoholics Anonymous since then has given me my life back. It's given me a life.”
After reading the service user’s account into the parliamentary record Mr. Eastwood said it was just one of ‘many thousands of stories of people in the city of Derry and right across Northern Ireland who have been affected by the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction and have been helped by those wonderful volunteers and staff at the Northlands Centre’.
The Derry MP told MPs of the shocking toll drug and alcohol addiction exacts each year in the north.
“One person every single week in Northern Ireland dies from alcohol-related disease. If you add in drug related deaths we are talking about ten deaths a week.
"If that was happening in full public view can you imagine the outcry? We would be rushing to deal with this issue at every single level of government.
"Frankly, there is no excuse anymore for anybody standing in the way of this commitment.”
Mr. Eastwood said it is time to deliver on the NDNA commitment of providing ‘additional funding to support the Derry/Londonderry addiction centre’.
“We should be rushing to get this money out the door and get this money spent. Northlands has a very proud record. I want to put on record just how grateful the people of our city and the people of Northern Ireland are to all of the staff at Northlands and all of the volunteers and all the people who put their money in the boxes when they see it to support that wonderful service because over the past five years alone there have been over 1,186 weeks of treatment for hundreds of people attending the six week residential programme at Northlands, 12,886 non-residential counselling slots have been used and on average over 35 per cent of people for whom the data is available in this period are in recovery with an average of under 10 per cent in relapse management,” he said.
Mr. Eastwood said the Northlands Addiction Centre now has a ‘very strong proposal for a top class, world class addiction centre in Derry’.
Northern Ireland Office Minister Steve Baker said he was happy to recommit to additional funding support for Derry addiction services.
“We really welcome the opportunity to make clear the government is committed to supporting the Derry/Londonderry addiction centre and providing it with that million pounds from the unique circumstances funding from the NDNA.
"He particularly mentions Northlands and, I will come back to them, but I know it’s a very valued service and it seems to me a very sensible approach to use Northlands to deliver what is required,” said Mr. Baker.
However, the Minister of State emphasised that the delivery of funding for addiction services in the north is the responsibility of Stormont.
"Health is, of course, a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and the issue of a lack of clarity came up but we are absolutely clear that health is a devolved matter and we would like health to be governed and governed well in Northern Ireland but it is therefore for the relevant Northern Ireland Department, in this case the Department of Health, to formulate its proposals on how to use this one million pounds of unique circumstances funding to support those experiencing addiction in Northern Ireland,” he said.