Banned for Life by the NHS
I recently met Meinir at a café in Neath. I got to know her because of the problems she was facing trying to get a script from the community drug service. I have to be honest that I was a little sceptical of her story; that she was banned from getting help from her community services and that is why she is receiving help from us as part of Dyfodol. Dyfodol is funded to support people who are part of the criminal justice system.
I find it hard to believe that anyone could be banned from getting their basic health issues dealt with. Apparently, if the NHS Service deems you a risk to their staff, they can ban you without any right to appeal and without any demonstrable evidence against you.
Meinir has been assured she will be able to get ongoing support, but it will need to stay with the criminal justice system, something she does not want, but it is the only offer available.
I dare say if Meinir’s case had not been championed by Estel Farell-Roig, a journalist with the Western Mail, she well may have found herself without any help once her time-limited treatment came to an end.
There is a drive to ensure people are given time-limited treatment so they are challenged to make real change in their lives. Without time-limited treatment, there is a fear that people will be parked on methadone and will be condemned to a life on drugs. On Tuesday the 30th October I am talking to ITV about Methadone and the complaint that people can be on it for years. My view is yes; if the issues they face are too complex for agencies to address, that may well be the case.
The reality of many people’s lives is they shouldn’t come off treatment. I do not subscribe to addiction being a disease, but I do accept that drug use for some is a logical option given their circumstances.
Meinir is a lovely gentle person, but suffers hugely from anxiety for which she has received medication from the age of 13. She finds that opiate substitutes are the most effective drugs for her condition. So after 40 years of being medicated, do we accept that she is not a good judge for what she needs to survive with? Meinir is clear: without medication her life is not liveable. Of course had she received better interventions when she was a child maybe her story would be different, but sadly there was no successful intervention. The damage has been done and we now have to listen to her when she says she wants to live a successful and independent life.
The UK continues to see a record amount of drug deaths, and many of these deaths are related to older users. Many will be banned like Meinir from accessing NHS and other community drug services. Some you may feel deserve such a ban for violent behaviour, others simply because a worker dislikes them and feels uncomfortable around them. Those most impacted by bans usually have mental health issues and if there were stats on it I would not be surprised if it impacted dis-proportionately on women.
People with mental health issues often turn to illicit drugs, because they provide more comfort than the medication prescribed to them. In some cases people’s self-medication has been vindicated, if we take cannabis as an example.
In Wales we want to create a healthy country. This means we have to provide treatment and services to those that need it, but we need to go further than this. We need to ask how we can keep people in the best state they can reach; and the secret to this is listening.
If Meinir had been listened to when she was young maybe she would not have been given prescribed drugs, but someone to talk to about how she could overcome her anxiety. I see too many service users who if given the right support as children would never have felt the need to turn to drugs. Too many children who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, who have suffered bereavement, who have felt pressurised to succeed but have not felt up to the task, that have been in care, youngsters with mental health issues without resources to aid them. The vast majority of people I see as adults are suffering from a deep trauma. The complexity of the problem is so great that illicit or prescribed drugs are the only option for them.
Of course, we do see people overcome adversity; events such as the Recovery Walk celebrate this. But we need to accept that sometimes even the most expensive treatment does not work, as can be seen in the media with the travails of well-known celebrities. We must stand by those who cannot make the journey of recovery. We must listen to them, and provide the services that best meets their need and if that means they have to be on medication for the rest of their lives, so be it.