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“Encouraging results” as Wrexham takes on innovative approach in tackling substance misuse

An innovative approach to helping those affected by substance misuse issues has been introduced in Wrexham, with some “encouraging results” already being seen.

The new approach, which is being undertaken by a number of organisations and volunteers, features as part of ongoing efforts to tackle the growing problems around what were formerly known as ‘legal highs’.

In 2016 new legislation was introduced to specifically focus on tackling the sale, production and misuse of substances such as ‘Spice’ and ‘Mamba’

Previously such substances, which were also rebranded as NPS (New Psychoactive Substances or Novel Psychoactive Substances) could be purchased openly in shops or online. However under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 those found producing, supplying and importing NPS risk imprisonment.

There have been questions as to whether the legislation works, goes far enough or if it has created further issues. This has also been highlighted by Wrexham Council and North Wales Police, who have acknowledged that in many ways NPS are harder to police than the old-style drugs.

Issues with NPS, such as Spice and Mamba, in Wrexham have been well-documented throughout the year, with the town making front page news across the country back in March. National press coverage escalated further over the summer, when a group of homeless people set up a make-shift campsite on the grounds of the former Groves school.

Since then there has been growing pressure and frustration from the public for more to be done and for action to be taken.

Now an explainer of the work that has been carried out over the past few months to tackle the town’s problems has been released by Wrexham Community Safety Partnership – who say an “innovative approach” is starting to show early signs of success.

A key part of the work being undertaken is ‘profiling’, which involves getting to know people in and around the town centre with drug issues; along with developing and understanding of each individual’s backgrounds, circumstances and needs.

Such work is being carried out by people from a cross section of local support agencies, including Wrexham Council, the police, local health services and support charities.

Steve Campbell, Wrexham Council’s NPS (New Psycho-active Substances) Taskforce Co-ordinator, explained the approach means those involved can “hit the ground running” and offer tailored support to each individual right from the start.

“All it really means is that we’ve got to know each individual, so we know what kind of help they’ll need if they decide to accept help,” said Steve.

“It could be that one person will need help with accommodation, another will need help with their mental health and so on. And we’ll continually monitor them, so we know how their circumstances are changing from week-to-week.

“It means we can hit the ground running and offer them tailored support the minute they choose to accept it. Every minute counts during those initial moments when someone chooses to accept help.”

Whilst profiling individuals plays a large part in the approach being taken in Wrexham, those involved in the process say there are “other really important pieces in the jigsaw”.

One key turning point locally was an event held in March 2017 which brought everyone together in one room – including service users and organisations involved in tackling substance misuse and homelessness in the town.

It gave professionals and volunteers working on the front-line the chance to talk in-depth with those most in need about the challenges being faced in Wrexham.

Speaking at the time Sgt Vic Powell, who organised the event, described it as ‘one big, collaborative learning experience’ and was a case of getting ‘everyone in a room’.

The event was so successful that a second was held in the Salvation Army in Rhosddu a few months later.

“The thing we all recognised was that it was unrealistic, in some cases, to send people all over the place for different types of support,” Steve explained.

“If someone struggling with drug-addiction asks for help, and you tell them they need to go to one place to get help with one thing, and then to a different place for something else, there’s often issues with ensuring that person is able to access the various sources of support available to them.

“Some people are unable to keep appointments and turn up in the right place at the right time, so you lose the chance to engage them.

“It became apparent that we needed to try and create some kind of one-stop shop facility.”

So the idea of a one-stop shop emerged. A place where substance misusers could go and access all the different help and support they need.

The idea was put into practice – with the ‘shop’ set up at a suitable location in the town centre, operating on a one-day-a-week basis to begin with. Because of the profiling work being done, the professionals on-site already know what support to offer each individual person.

The use of a ‘rapid-referral’ system also means they get that support fast – so if they need to go into detox or rehab, that process is sped up.

Although it is early days, Steve says there are already some “encouraging results”.

He said: “The people we’re trying to engage with are comfortable turning up at the one-stop shop, and some are now in detox and rehab programmes.

“That’s really positive, and something that wouldn’t have happened before.”

He continued: “Because we have all the different support workers on hand – ready to help with addiction, health issues, mental health, finding somewhere to live, benefits and so on – it means we can offer help the moment people decide they want it.

“That’s important. Any delay, and an hour later they could be back under the influence of drugs, and no longer interested in getting help.”

Wrexham’s approach has attracted interest across the country, keen to see what they can learn from the town’s experiences.

Cllr Hugh Jones, Wrexham Council’s Lead Member for Communities, Partnerships, Public Protection and Community Safety, says: “We’re doing something that’s really simple in principal – we’re making it as easy as possible for people to get the tailored support they need, in one place, as soon as they decide they want it.

“But it’s innovative in that it isn’t really being done in most towns and cities. So other places with the same issues are interested in seeing what kind of results we get in Wrexham.

“There’s no easy answer, but if we can help more people get the support and opportunities they need to move away from drugs, and the chaotic lifestyle that goes with them, that will go a long way in helping us manage this difficult problem.”

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