Addict centre under review

Alcoholics are not confined to the scruffy people wearing dirty trenchcoats who hang around the streets.
Alcoholics are not confined to the scruffy people wearing dirty trenchcoats who hang around the streets.

Concerns have been raised that Taranaki's health board could close one of its most valuable tools for helping alcoholics and drug addicts.

The Step (Short Term Emergency Placement) facility in Powderham St has been operating for eight years.

It is run by Taranaki District Health Board's alcohol and drug services and offers placement for five people who have accepted they need help and have stopped drinking but who need a safe environment for a few weeks as they cope with withdrawal symptoms.

A former resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Taranaki Daily News it would be a great loss if the facility closed.

"It's an excellent service, it is very caring," he said.

"You feel very battered and bruised after these illnesses and you need these facilities where you can feel safe.

"It provides a safe environment where you can get better in controlled conditions."

He said residents were encouraged to attend counselling sessions.

But Wendy Langlands, clinical services manager for mental health and addictions, said a decision on closing the Step facility had not been reached.

"The service is currently being reviewed, with the DHB looking at all aspects of the service as it is currently run," she said.

The facility stopped taking in residents in April and the health board is currently using other providers and has increased community support for those seeking help.

Mrs Langlands could not say what the future of the service would be.

"It is too early to state pending consultation, however community alcohol and drug teams are currently supporting the clients as this process goes on."

"We are looking at all options – for example the Salvation Army Bridge programme has been established in Taranaki for nearly two years.

"Over this time additional capacity has been added to their programme.

"This has meant clients previously having to access services outside of the region are now able to stay close to their family/whanau and their community," she said.

The former resident said the people who used the Salvation Army facility were often ordered to do so by the courts and were in a different situation to those who sought treatment.

Mrs Langlands said the service was never intended as a treatment centre.

"It was short-term emergency placement which is very different from a treatment centre ... clients will continue to have access to care."

A former resident of the Step programme writes:

People think of an alcoholic as the disgusting-looking guy with the shabby greatcoat and filthy beard who hangs round street corners and drinking from a brown bag.

They don't think of the lawyer or doctor. But the truth is that the professionals probably outnumber the shabby greatcoats – they are known as functioning alcoholics.

Functioning alcoholics live a miserable existence: they are convinced they are just heavy drinkers.

Until, one day, the rock bottom event occurs: this may be a relatively minor event such as waking up in jail and not knowing why, or, much worse such as veering across the road and killing a mother and her child.

The rock bottom event triggers a last-ditch plea for help.

But where do you go for help? If you go to A & E at the hospital you'll probably be turned away, but they should direct you to the hospital's drug and alcohol unit.

There you will find help. Except one of their most valuable tools is about to be closed by the Taranaki District Health Board.

Step (Short Term Emergency Placement) is a house in New Plymouth providing a safe environment for a few weeks to get over the withdrawal symptoms, start to eat properly and regain some strength.

Most importantly, it keeps everyone else at bay while you deal with the most important thing: You.

Step doesn't profess to cure alcoholics, it is simply there to give you somewhere safe to come out of denial, accept your disease and put in place the things you need to do to continue your life without alcohol. It has been remarkably successful in getting people back into society, working and being socially responsible.

This is a capability that should be applauded, talked about in seminars and held on high as an example of excellent community care – a jewel in the crown of the TDHB.

Not surprisingly, the majority of people who have benefited from Step are not going to be the first to step forward and sing its praises so it must be up to the general community to understand the plight of so many people who find themselves with this dreadful disease and desperately need help before they end up mad, in jail or dead.

An email, a letter to the newspaper or a word in the ear of someone influential goes a long way and maybe that is all that is needed to get TDHB to recognise what a star they've got and not succumb to easy wins to balance a budget or appease political pressure and, best of all, save someone's life.

Taranaki Daily News