'It saved my life', former Middlesbrough drug user rues closure of heroin addiction programme

  • Video report by Kris Jepson

A Middlesbrough man who was a heroin addict for 20 years has raised concern over the closure of a pioneering heroin addiction programme, due to a lack of funds.

James Fowler said he was on the verge of death when he was referred to the Foundations Diamorphine Assisted Treatment (DAT) clinic.

During his referral, he received two shots of diamorphine a day, seven days a week, under a controlled, clean and clinical environment, which enabled him to wean off heroin.

However, the DAT clinic is due to close on 21 October due to insufficient funding from the authorities.

James Fowler told ITV News Tyne Tees: "I was at risk of going to prison. I was shoplifting a lot. I was barred out of the town centre.

"Everyone had turned their backs on me. Financially I had nothing left and I was going to die."

He added: "I really don’t think (the clinic should be closed), because it’s going to be bad enough people going out there, committing crime and causing problems.

"You’re just adding more fuel to the fire really. It saved my life and I can’t stress that enough, so it helped me find a way out and I believe it would have helped other people find their way out as well."

Foundations DAT clinic Credit: ITV News

The programme was launched by the former police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger in 2019, but his successor, Steve Turner, refused to continue supporting it in 2021.

Since then, it has partly been funded by the Home Office's Project Adder funding of £4.58 million and there is a commitment to extend this funding until 2025.

However, South Tees Public Health have told ITV News Tyne Tees that without additional funding, they cannot afford to keep the clinic running.

Mark Adams, joint Director of Public Health, said: "The council was able to contribute significant Project ADDER funding for the period 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2023, but unfortunately no additional funding, which was required to make up the shortfall, could be secured.

"No long-term sources of funding have been identified to allow the pilot to be extended and the council is not in a position to commit further grant funding to the programme."

Foundations DAT clinic syringes Credit: ITV News

Danny Ahmed, who runs the DAT clinic, said he is concerned his clients will relapse from their treatment.

He said: "We’ve got a group of people that for the first time have found stability for their drug use. That might be the first time for decades.

"How are they going to manage? How are they going to be able to stretch their incomes and build on the stability that they have found through the programme?

"Is there a danger that they lapse into problematic drug use?"

He added that the programme has been a proven success, with independent research suggesting crime in the area was down 60 per cent as a result.

He said: "That provides stability so we see an improvement in people’s physical and mental health, an improvement in their quality of life and a reduction in terms of the community issues that problematic drug use can cause and particularly a reduction in criminal behaviour."

One man who uses the clinic, who wished to remain anonymous, said he is particularly concerned about its withdrawal, as the stresses of the cost of living crisis are getting to him and he does not know if he might be tempted back onto the drugs.

He said: "It’s like taking the rug from under our feet, you know. I’ve spent a long time building up my self confidence and my mental health.

"This is going to kill people basically, whether through suicide or overdose. I think I’m ok today, but I don’t know what I’m going to be like tomorrow or the day after.

"I don’t want to think about it to be honest with you. I’m scared."