‘There are people who aren’t going to survive’ - addiction fears in lockdown

Video report by Andrew Misra

The coronavirus lockdown has impacted upon all aspects of life, but there are concerns that for those living with an addiction, the months of isolation have hampered their recovery. 

New figures reveal that last year the North East had the highest hospital admission rate in England for drug poisoning. 

A former drug user has told ITV News Tyne Tees that many people have relapsed - and while she's been able to access support, she worries that some of those who are struggling will not survive the lockdown. 

Ana Pires lives in Hebburn on South Tyneside. After recently getting clean, she is looking back on twenty-five years of substance abuse.

Ana Pires

Explaining the depths of her addiction, she said: “You don’t think about your family, you don’t think about your friends, you just think about the substance.

“The time you’re going to get it, the time you’re going to use it. Living with no purpose whatsoever.

Pires, 43, says she owes her life to treatment she started before the first national lockdown in March - but worries others are battling their addictions alone.

She said: “I have the experience to see that many addicts that are new relapsed through the lockdown because they couldn’t handle the isolation.

"There are people who are not going to survive this lockdown unfortunately.”

New figures from the NHS show that the North East had the highest rate for hospital admissions for drug poisoning last year.

The pandemic has stopped many face-to-face rehab sessions from happening, but services have adapted by offering support online instead.

Ana completed her treatment on Zoom with coaches at local charity Recovery Connections, who have a recovery centre in Gateshead.

Richy Cunningham is the regional manager of the organisation. He said: “When the pandemic hit the country there was panic for the people we look after.

“However, it’s worked really well for people having been able to access a service and treatment and support and therapy from their home, from their living room, bedroom, wherever."

Others are trying out new ways of helping others too, like Richie Paxton, who is based in Gateshead. He provides counselling support online.

Richie Paxton

Paxton’s promising football career was disrupted by injury as a teenager. Soon after he lost a son, and turned to gambling which fuelled his drink and drug addiction. 

He played for many semi professional clubs across the North East - most recently at Whickham FC, but his addictions remained constant.

He said: “The snowball effect around the drug use was phenomenal. It was just a recreational thing, but I always did it to excess.

Paxton says he struggled to keep his life under control throughout his twenties despite trying counselling. 

He said: “All of my problems came from trying to suppress my feelings but they all just tried to point to the fact that I’d lost a son and that trauma. The moment it changed for me was talking to someone who’d been through that experience.

Now he is determined to use his experiences to help others, and help them turn their lives around.

He said: "It is possible, I’m living proof of that. It’s not easy, it can be hard but the life you get at the end is so much better than the life you were ever trying to get.

Drug addiction is not a new problem in the North East, but perhaps the challenges of the lockdowns has led to new solutions are emerging.

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