A ‘groundbreaking’ multi-agency approach in tackling substance misuse is being trialled in Wrexham.
In March 2017 Wrexham made national press when a collection of images showing suspected substance abuse on Lord Street and in the bus station went viral. The images, which dated from 2015 onwards, were shared over 30,000 times on Facebook.
The national coverage brought issues with substance abuse in Wrexham to the forefront of many people’s minds, with local businesses, residents and politicians / campaigners calling for further action in tackling the issue.
Often there is criticism that not enough is being done to tackle issues with substance abuse in Wrexham – with images of suspected users and comments about the ‘lack of action’ being taken in the town centre often circulating online.
Behind the scenes however, we are told there are weekly meetings with relevant partners, including representatives and Wrexham Council and North Wales Police, to create and strengthen a ‘co-ordinated’ approach to provide support to those in Wrexham with ‘complex needs’ and the wider public.
One such response to drug problems in Wrexham came in the form of ‘getting everyone in a room, including substance users’ at a trial event held in Trinity Church on King Street on March 30th – you can read our indepth write up here.
The primary aim of the event was to attempt to ‘gently force’ those in need of support to come into the church and interact with support workers. During the day users had the opportunity to receive support from from various agencies and find out further information on the sort of help available to them.
Last Thursday saw the second event of its kind to take place – with the Salvation Army in Rhosddu used as a venue for organisations such as the Welsh Ambulance Service, CAIS, tenancy support, The Wallich, Wrexham Council and harm reduction, to offer help and assistance to any service users who needed it.
Those in the room who spoke to Wrexham.com said they were aware of the long journey ahead in tackling substance abuse in Wrexham, however felt that events like these were unique in the UK.
Addressing those present at the start of the event, Sgt Vic Powell described it as ‘one big, collaborative learning experience’ and was a case of getting ‘everyone in a room’.
Sgt Powell said: “We can’t achieve what we are trying to achieve without everyone in a room, and that includes service users and the people we are trying to support as they are part of this puzzle and part of the solution, and we need to embrace what we have to say.
“The first multi-agency meeting provided a degree of education in both ways and I would like to mirror that. The reason I’ve looked at this is because we are all going through the same things and it is almost like a revolving door. I think we need to deliver more of what we deliver at a street level as a collaborative.
“The people we are dealing with are ultimately people in crisis and chaos and I think we need to change how we deliver the answer. There is not one team with the answer. Success can only be delivered through effective collaboration, that is where I am coming from.
“I would like to stress this is not intelligence gathering. This about gathering information on the services we need to deliver – it is a service user delivery forum.”
He added: “I will leave you with one final thought. It is from Gandhi and has resonated with me – You must be the change you wish to see in the world – we are here to give that change.”
Issues surrounding New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – formerly known as legal highs – have presented themselves in various forms across the country, with seemingly no one having solution at present.
The recent Psychoactive Substances Act made the previously known ‘legal highs’ illegal, with new legislation introduced to target the production and supply of such substances. It attempted to close a loophole on previous law which saw a drug get outlawed, but then a tweak to the chemical formula would then make it legal.
One approach currently used in Wrexham to manage the impact of substance abuse is the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which covers the town centre and also Rhosddu Park and cemetery. The PSPO prohibits people from ‘loitering in a state of intoxication or through drug induced activity’.
Introduced in the summer of 2016, the PSPO also includes banning ‘inhaling, injecting, smoking or otherwise using any intoxicating substances’.
Those found breaching the PSPO face a fine of £100 (or £75 if paid within seven days) however non-payment could see prosecutions with a maximum penalty upon conviction being a fine up to £1000 – with those subject to such a fine being without the means to pay.
However the recent media coverage surrounding use of NPS substances such as ‘spice’ and ‘mamba’ in Wrexham, has led to questions over whether the PSPO works or if alternatives should be explored.
Speaking to Rhian Jones, Wrexham Council’s senior partnerships officer, we were told that the approach Wrexham is taking is ‘groundbreaking’ and that while they are not condoning anti-social behaviour, the aim is to ‘take the focus from criminality’.
It is also hoped that such events can help find out what the service users’ needs are and what additional resources and ‘wrap around support’ is needed.
She said: “This is one part of a wider plan. We meet with partners every week with a view to get responses in developing a coordinated approach.
“These are people with complex needs and the objective is to provide with them with the support they need.
“We are not condoning anti-social behaviour. The problems in the bus station and the town centre, we are not condoning it. It is unpleasant and not nice for residents and businesses.”
“As a partnership we have signed up to that to make sure that Wrexham is safe for everyone. We are keen to understand who these people are and what their needs are.”
Rhian also explained that with NPS being so new, there are complexities surrounding the drug; with some of the current policies for substance misuse not being fit for purpose in tackling the problem.
She added: “What has tended to happen is these people have been depersonalised. They have complex needs and they need help.
“Issuing fixed penalty notices is not always the approach, however it does have a place to play in the wider picture. The clean-ups for discarded needles feeds into the wider plan.
“We don’t know why NPS is presenting itself as it is in Manchester and Wrexham. However we are finding in a world of community safety, there is always somewhere to go to draw from previous experience.
“This gives people the chance to talk and show we are trying collectively to sort the issue.”
Events such as the one held in the Salvation Army and Trinity Church seek to offer a more ‘holistic’ approach to helping those living with substance abuse and its effects.
Gaps had also been identified from the March event, with involvement from mental health providers seen as integral in taking the process further.
The set-up for last week’s event was simple – everyone in a room, including service users.
Held at the Salvation Army, the room was divided into several separate sections – with small circles of chairs dotted around with panels breaking up the space to allow for an element of privacy.
Service users started to arrive the location shortly after 9:30am, with attendance dipping off near 11:30am.
We were told by several representatives that there were more users in attendance at this particular event, who were invited to the main room to speak to the various agencies and seek help if required.
Agencies providing mental health and housing support seemed particularly busy. One former service user explaining to us that more housing would help reduce the problem almost straight away – with accommodation providing the first level of stability and normality for those living with addiction.
Lack of housing and homelessness in Wrexham is an issue faced by agencies, with one representative from homeless charity, The Wallich, telling us that the service can deal with anything between 20 and 40 individuals locally each day.
The view of this year’s earlier coverage of the town centre is mixed, however the fact the story of substance abuse in Wrexham town centre was ‘not new news’ was stressed.
While some residents may be deterred from visiting the town after the press coverage, there was a hope among some that the increased awareness of local problems could lead to additional funding for Wrexham.
Speaking after the event Sgt Powell said he had been ‘heartened’ that the event had been so well attended. He said: “I think it has been really effective and it is the first time so many agencies in the one room – I am heartened that so many have turned up.
“The aim is to get people into the same room – open communication on a practitioner level and cross communication is key. We have gone some way to being at that. This has to be something everyone buys into.”
Following on from last week’s event, a debrief session between all the agencies involved will take place early next month to find out how the process can evolve going forward.
It is hoped that a similar event will take place again the near future – with plans to further expand the offering to service users.
Commenting on the often critical comments on social media about substance abuse in Wrexham, we asked Sgt Powell what reassurance he could the wider public about what is being done to tackle the issues in the town centre.
He said: “The problems we are facing are complex and have been decades in the making. As a result we are not going to solve them in the next 12 months or the next few years. It is a long process.
“I would like to reassure the public that we are doing things. We are aware of the frustration, but I would ask for tolerance and understanding.”