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Working together to cut opiate deaths among the homeless
13/02/2017

​Homeless people who use opiates are now getting better access to a potentially life-saving antidote thanks to a partnership which aims to help reduce the number of people dying from overdoses.

Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP) is working with homeless hostels across Norfolk to train staff to administer Naloxone, which is used when people have taken heroin and other opiate overdoses. It is hoped that by providing hostels with a take-home kit, as well as the right training on how to use it, the number of people who die prematurely as a result of an overdose will reduce.

NRP, which is a partnership between Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), The Matthew Project and the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), has so far trained staff at many hostels, including Bishopbridge House and the Ripley Project, both in Norwich. A further session will take place with staff from Genesis Housing next month.

The training comes in addition to NRP’s existing work with homeless people, which includes regularly visiting Bishopbridge House, which is run by St Martin’s Housing Trust, to hold clinics to help people access help with drug and alcohol addiction.

The service also operates a Homeless Outreach Team across the county, which takes help directly to vulnerable people, in turn making them more likely to engage with treatment.

As well as visiting hostels, the team in Norwich will go out with the Matrix bus to link up with sex workers and walk the streets with council representatives to speak directly to people who are sleeping rough. Their aim is to build up trust so that they can help homeless people access other services, such as housing or medical care, as well as support with their addiction or any mental health problems they may have.

Sarah Rhoades, Recovery Manager with NRP, said: “Our outreach team work really hard to build up trust with individuals so that they can open up a dialogue and feel more comfortable coming into service. They are a friendly and consistent face who can hold the client’s hand and help them find support from other organisations, such as housing providers or the council, for example, as well as our drug and treatment services.

“Many of the people we work can be chaotic and may also have mental health issues, so it is really important that we do what we can to help remove their fear and make it as easy as possible for them to access any help they may need.”

NRP was launched on 1 April 2013 and provides structured treatment, such as planned interventions, group and one-to-one work, detoxes and prescribing, to around 2,500 people every year. This includes people using opiates, alcohol and non-opiates such as cannabis, amphetamines, steroids, cocaine and crack cocaine.

Chris Strivens, Deputy Service Manager of NRP, said: “We have worked very successfully in partnership with local homeless hostels for some time to take care directly to this vulnerable group and encourage them to engage with treatment services.

“Offering training in how to use this important drug is an extension of that work. Statistics show that people who use opiates illicitly are 10 times more likely to die than their peers, while almost 1,000 people die prematurely in the UK because of opiate overdose each year.

“Many of these deaths are witnessed by other people, and could therefore be avoided if the
right medication was available to help. We hope that by supplying these kits to service users, their families and other key people, we will be able to make sure anyone who has overdosed gets the antidote they need as quickly as possible, in turn saving lives.”

Maria Pratt, Homeless Services Manager with St Martin’s Housing, said: “All staff at Bishopbridge House have had the Naloxone training, delivered by Chris Strivens. The team were initially concerned about the responsibility of this but the training really helped put their minds at ease and they now see Naloxone as part of their ‘tool kit’ for offering life-saving support to our residents.

“We have also noticed that some of our residents have the kits and are using these to help their friends who have accidently overdosed.

“While we do appreciate that this is a life-saving option, we see it as a short-term solution to keep active drug users safe while they are seeking treatment for their addiction.”

For more information about NRP, visit www.norfolkrecoverypartnership.org.uk