The highlight of the day was an impassioned keynote speech by Sara McGrail on the government’s recent “Putting Full Recovery First” document. Although the document has been criticised and denounced by many of the signatory agencies in private, none has stepped back from it publicly. It remains an influence for commissioning and a yardstick of the current government’s outlook.
Whereas the term ‘recovery’ has been a source of great empowerment and strength in the mental health field, it has been hijacked in the drugs field in a “victory of moral determinism, greed and self-righteousness over evidence”. The language of recovery could have been used to empower people who use drugs to determine their own goals and improve the range and quality of services they receive – especially given widespread unhappiness at a one-size-fits-all treatment system that had developed under the NTA over the years. Instead, this government’s idea of recovery has come to embody one imposed goal for all – total abstinence from all drugs (or “full recovery”). According to Sara, the hijacking of recovery language is down to three related factors: the broader push for austerity and funding cuts; the development of “big business” treatment charities focused less on individuals in their care and more on tenders, contracts and profit; and several years of highly efficient political lobbying from residential treatment providers and the Conservative Christian Right. Together, they have created a “hierarchy of worthiness” – with abstinence placed above all other successful treatment outcomes – which has been translated into a system that “measures the success of drug treatment by the absence of people in drug treatment”.
Sara predicted that deaths, infections and stigma would all increase as a result of this shift. She called on the audience to recognize the weaknesses of the previous treatment systems, learn from the successes and weaknesses, and maintain their focus on reducing harm: “we are needed now more than ever”. Sara’s speech brilliantly emphasised the need to meet people where they’re at, rather than where we are being told they should be.
Mat presented about the development of the ‘K-Check’ tool that helps GP and other workers do practical work and screening of ketamine users while also avoiding stigma.
Stephen who has a history of delivering harm reduction interventions in prison environments spoke about this work and the healthcare in prisons and how this works with substance use.
Martin and Dave spoke about performance and image enhancing drugs, with Martin focused on theory and Dave giving the point of view from his position as a competing bodybuilder.
As well as his presentation (above) Nigel also gave a short presentation about the making of the ‘Naloxone is Childs Play’ video, this included outtakes from the film.
Chris and Buff presented about the overdose app that they’ve developed for iPhone and Android phones.
Joanne spoke about training of workers by drug users and how this effects the existing power imbalances.
Russell spoke about a possible future of drug use that includes ‘chemputers’ and other technological highs.