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'I'd be dead' without Oaktrees drug & alcohol recovery programme

Jan Meldrum Photo: ITV News

By Kris Jepson

A North East woman who recovered after living with alcoholism 10 years ago has told ITV News Tyne Tees "without Oaktrees, I would have been dead".

Speaking on the day the Gateshead drug and alcohol recovery project celebrated its 10th anniversary, she is one of at least 1,500 people in the region who has been supported by the programme, which is run by North East charity, Changing Lives.

The Oaktrees Project launched in 2009 to make up for the lack of residential support for addicts in the North East.

Co-founder of the programme, Lionel Joyce, told ITV News he is proud of its achievements so far, but that he wants to turn Newcastle, which is known as a "party city", into the "recovery city".

Watch @krisjepson's report here:

Oaktrees claims there have been hundreds of success stories over the years and a significant number of "graduates" go on to full-time employment.

The first female graduate of the programme, Jan Meldrum, has been sober for 10 years. She rebuilt her life and now works for Changing Lives.

I sort of had a busy life, busy career and everything like that and started drinking a glass of wine or whatever at the end of the day, you know stress and all of that sort of thing and that, you know, gradually became a bottle and two bottles and everything like that, and it got to the point where I was drinking more and more and more and all that mattered was drinking, you know, the job, the house, the car, nothing else mattered, it was just about getting a drink. Without Oaktrees I would have been dead. The twelve weeks was, you know, you had to get up, you had to come here, you had to stay sober, you met with other people in the same boat as you, different backgrounds, different stories, all of that sort of thing. But I felt like I belonged here. People understood what I was going through.

– Jan Meldrum
Lionel Joyce Credit: ITV News

Oaktrees Addiction Recovery

The 12-week full-time recovery programme involves recovering drug and drink addicts to attend the abstinence-based day treatment centre run by Changing Lives.

It includes group workshops, group therapy sessions, education and information sessions.

It is accessed by residents of Gateshead, Newcastle and Sunderland and new centres have been set up in Northumberland, North Tyneside and York.

What this programme does is it gets you in, gets you in quickly and gives you five days a week talking to other people in the same situation, discovering these amazing things like you’re not unique, you’re not a bad or evil person, you’re just sick, that you can get well.

– Lionel Joyce, Co-founder Oaktrees
Angela Watters Credit: ITV News

Challenges Evolved

On completion of the 12-step recovery programme, a graduation ceremony is held to celebrate the individuals' achievement, which is attended by friends and family who wish to be involved.

Graduates have access to a weekly Continuing Care Programme for up to 12 months and are also able to access services that support the on-going recovery journey such as education, training and volunteering.

Oaktrees North Shields counsellor, Angela Watters, told ITV News new challenges have evolved for the programme, as peoples' lives have changed, new drink and drug cultures have surfaced and austerity has impacted on society.

A lot of our clients have what we would class as dual addiction. Sometimes you’ll have people, they may have had an alcohol addiction, but then because that is becoming more expensive, things that they can buy cheaper, they will start taking them. It’s like such a wide scope now of drugs, alcohol, illegal highs, you know, all of those things, we see it coming through the door more and more, but it’s getting more and more complex and we need more services.

– Angela Watters, Oaktrees Counsellor

The Stats

According to the Office for National Statistics, the rate of deaths caused by drugs and alcohol is higher in the North East region than any other part of England and Wales.

Statistics Credit: Office for National Statistics
  • 2017 - 206 people died from drug abuse or dependence in North East
  • That's a higher number than at any point over the last 25 years.
  • 399 people in the North East died from conditions linked to alcohol