Tide being turned on drug use in seaside town with high rate of drug deaths

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

A high-rate of drug deaths and substance misuse hangs over Hastings in East Sussex but a five million pound programme appears to be turning the tide on the problem.

The seaside town was one of 13 locations to be identified by Government as needing targeted support to get on top of issues surrounding addiction and supply.

Project Adder is a council, police and community-led programme designed to tackle the criminal gangs that have infiltrated the community but also to break the vicious cycle for users.

In just over a year, thousands of pounds of class a drugs such as cocaine and heroin have been seized and over a hundred people arrested in Hastings.

"People [drug dealers] have said don’t come to Hastings” says Sussex Police Inspector Aidan Cornwall.

"We’ve seen it through some of the phone downloads where people have commented about how hard it is to get drugs into Hastings and that’s down to the increased patrols.”

PC Geoff Ramplin and PCSO Jacob Heneke play a unique role in the programme on their meet and greet beat.The officers aim to be the familiar faces of the force trying to connect with those in the community who need support for drug abuse.

Project Adder: police results in the last year

PC’s Ramplin said, “they [Project Adder clients] see us six days a week and we’re always trying to break down that boundary so they can see us normal human beings. “We’re not here to arrest every single person, yes we’re trying to reduce crime and drug use but as part of that it’s about building relationships that they need.

“A lot of them feel they’re forgotten about and left to do what they want so it’s building that trust back up in services.”PCSO Heneke added, “It’s about building that relationship and not being seen as somebody just in uniform and someone that they can trust and speak to.

“When they’re speaking to other offices they don’t know who they are they can be very anti-police but when we’ve been speaking to them consistently it’s a lot easier to help them and provide them with support.

“I do enjoy coming in and speaking to them, having our daily chats, it’s something I look forward to on my shift and they are great people.”

The TV area of the Project Adder 'hub' in Hastings Credit: ITV News Meridian

The funding has seen the development of a safe space where clients of Project Adder can learn new skills, hold appointments and work on building employment opportunities.

With a comfy sofa area equipped with a television, as well as a relaxed coffee room and meeting space, the facility is designed to install a sense of normality with the lives of those who are recovering.

Sophia has been under Project Adder for three months and for her is allowed her to take positive steps within her recovery,

“Quite often when you’re using you don’t know how to relax. I’ve spent a lot of time on my own or with other users who don’t want to make positive changes.

“It’s nice to be around people of a similar mindset to meet people trying to do the same thing and to also meet new friends because when you’re trying to get clean you need to cut off a circle of people that you were hanging around with.

“I’ve done college courses which Adder have helped me get to which is supporting my personal development and growth. I’d say there’s been a 50% increase in my positivity outlook in just three months since being with Project Adder.

“When you’re living a life which is chaotic as a using lifestyle can be it’s often impossible to meet deadlines and to get to appointments on time. If you get a little bit of support in the beginning it’s a big help.”

Part of the funding has been used by police to purchase a revolutionary piece of drugs testing kit.

The Bruker can analyse a substance within minutes and is the only machine of its kind with Sussex Police based at the station in Hastings.

Testing for cocaine in just seconds: PC Paul  Fielder explains how

Previously it could take weeks to find out the makeup of a substance meaning suspects would often be released as officers would not get the results quick enough.

The technology delivers a faster result meaning there’s more change of officers being able to charge a suspected offended.

Project Adder funding is initially in place until next year but the Government say they’re committed to extended it until 2025 with all areas of England receiving further support modelled on Project Adder.

A Home Office spokesperson said,

“Our 10-year drugs strategy will drive down drug supply, tackle criminal supply chains and provide the largest ever increase in drugs treatment funding.

"An additional £780 million over three years has been committed specifically to rebuild treatment and recovery services, through local partnerships that build on the model developed in Project ADDER”.

“The government is also investing £300m of dedicated funding to tackle drug supply and county lines over the next three years.”