Former Liverpool drug user told to 'drop dead' gives strong message to naysayers

Video Report by Merseyside Correspondent Andy Bonner

Cathy Doyle had almost given up.

She got addicted to heroin at the age of 15, spent 27 years on methadone and at her lowest ebb was told to "drop dead."

Thankfully, it was lockdown which finally forced Cathy to get clean and prove to people that she wasn't as worthless as some evidently thought she was.

In fact, she is now helping others through a peer support programme which reaches out to opiate users.

"After I came off it I found out a lot about myself that I didn't know, and that I am a nice person.

"I'm just grateful to be alive.

"It's rewarding to try to help other people and to see the light come on in other people's eyes after so long."

The charity With You gives a free and confidential service without judgement to people with drugs, alcohol or mental health issues.

Cathy has been helped by With You in Liverpool, a charity she calls a beacon of hope in a world that can't see the true levels of addiction around it.

The organisation has received extra government funding to reduce the everyday harm of drug use to people and communities.

The idea of Project ADDER is to ensure that people are offered a health-based approach to tackling their drug use, diverting them away from the criminal justice system.

The number of people actively receiving treatment at With You's services has increased by 10.5% after just one year.

Sarah Humphreys, Contract Manager, said: “This major investment into our front line services has allowed us to realise many of our ambitions to improve the way we support people with their substance use.

"We’ve been able to use a whole system approach to develop an intensive treatment andrehabilitation system... so that we can support more individuals, in communities and places that have previously been hard to reach."

Cathy has been helping people on the streets.

Three areas of Merseyside received a total of £6.41m for the project, which has resulted in a 120% increase in community resolutions.

This means low-level criminals who are dependent on drugs are not automatically prosecuted.

Instead, sites in Liverpool, Wirral and Knowsley have referred 974 more offenders into treatment programmes, which the government says helps protect vulnerable people and breaks the business model that drives the illegal drugs trade. Merseyside Police has made 2,269 arrests for drug related offences across the three project areas and nearly £4 million of criminal assets have been seized.

The Home Office says nearly half of those funds will be invested into policing on Merseyside.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Mahon, drugs lead at Merseyside Police, said: "There's no point giving someone a fine if they've got an addiction because how are they going to pay for it?

"We still arrest people who are involved in high level criminality. But people who were being exploited are the ones that we need to look at, not put through the criminal criminal justice system."

Liverpool at night. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

As well as working with Merseyside Police on out of court disposals, With You has introduced a support clinic for sex workers.

48 women have been introduced to treatment for the first time now hope to be able to start rebuilding their lives.

Meanwhile, Cathy and her colleagues are helping to increase the availability of the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Cathy said: "I'd almost given up. I thought that was it. That was my life.

"I didn't see the impact my addiction was having on my family and the people around me because we're so consumed in our own little world that we don't really acknowledge that.

"The worst thing that I ever said to me was: 'You might as well just drop dead, look at the state of you'.

"So I believed that for a long, long time, that I weren't worth nothing and I'd almost given up on myself.

"So my words would be to everyone out there: just be kind."

Paul Rose, left, is one of those training to help others on the streets of Liverpool.

Paul Rose is one of Cathy's fellow peer workers.

He said: "I think there's a bigger drugs problem than anyone actually realises.

"People start off recreational and it quickly takes over, not just that person but people's families.

"And It's all walks of life.

"People need education from a young age up even to me; I started learning three weeks ago some of the things that I didn't realise in life.

"I thought I was streetwise, but I'm not."

Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell says the results are "very encouraging".

Project ADDER now has sites in 13 areas across the country, with four in the North West including Blackpool.

The Home Office works closely with the local authorities in each area to deliver bespoke programmes that address the specific needs in each site.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, said: "Illegal drugs devastate lives, destroy our communities and cost society billions. "Gangs exploit young and vulnerable people to run their grubby trade and this government will not allow this to continue. "Through Project ADDER we are helping people in Merseyside caught in the despair of addiction build a new and brighter future, ridding the area of drug dealers and making the community safer for the future."

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: "The results from the first year speak for themselves – more organised criminal gangs being disrupted, offenders behind bars and, crucially, vulnerable drug users diverted into drug treatment and recovery services. "Policing cannot tackle the issue of drugs in our community alone, that’s why it’s vital we combine enforcement with treatment and support through a whole-system approach.

"While there are no quick fixes, the results so far are very encouraging."