Turning for help

Glasgow’s first crisis centre for drug abusers had barely opened before it was full. Stephen Naysmith visited the centre to find out how staff are coping.

‘I worked in London and Dublin before I came here, but I‘ve never seen the sort of desperation l have in Glasgow,‘ says Andrew Horne, manager of Glasgow‘s new West Street Centre which filled all its twelve beds within two weeks of opening. ‘It is a self- destructive streak that I just haven‘t seen anywhere else. Nobody’s moving. they are all just staying put. I think they are frightened to go.‘

The crisis centre was opened last month by Turning Point, a national charity which tackles drink, drug and mental health problems. Greater Glasgow Health Board and Strathclyde Region are funding it in an attempt to cope with the city‘s huge drug problem. Glasgow has a higher death rate among drug-users than any other city in Britain, and an estimated 9500 people inject drugs.

‘The Southern General Hospital stitched him up and sent him here because there were no psychiatric beds left

in the city.’

This centre is a double first for Turning Point, its first project in Scotland and first 24-hour service for drug-users. It operates on two fronts: the residential unit (which is full) and a drop-in service.

It’s Monday afternoon at the drop-in

centre and things are quiet. ‘On Friday it was like casualty in here.‘ says relief team leader Liz, recounting how one man had arrived with both rope-marks on his neck and slashed arms. ‘The Southern General Hospital stitched him up and sent him here because there were no psychiatric beds left in the city.’

People coming to the centre for the first time are assessed by a worker. Some come for detoxification, others merely want to stabilise their drug-use by getting a methadone prescription. Nearly all have other problems besides their drug use. ‘We are seeing a lot of sexual abuse and also bereavement,‘ says Liz. ‘Lots of people have started out on anti-depressants and become addicted.‘

Anti-depressants are a big problem for the centre. The benzo-diazepenes, such as Temazepam (‘jellies‘) and Valium are difficult to kick. ‘lt's a horrendous drug to come off,‘ says Andrew. ‘lt‘s much harder than heroin, and can be life-threatening. People tend to have fits and it is scariest when they are coming out of it. They go blue.‘

Since opening, the centre has already seen five people taking fits. At the moment. it is quiet enough for Liz to go out to the shops for provisions for the men and women on the ward. ‘They make your life hell if they don‘t get their cigarettes and chocolate,‘ she jokes.

Soon after she returns, the afternoon rush begins in earnest. Alison. a woman in her mid-20$, arrives desperate for help. She is taking up to 30 Temazepam a day, an amount which horrifies even Andrew. and has been trying to come off them by herself during the day while her partner is out at work. ‘She walks about the flat and rolls on the floor. lt‘s pointless her even trying,‘ says centre worker Natalie.

West Street Centre: helping to tight Glasgow’s drug crisis

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Alison is having problems with memory loss and suffers frequent blackouts. Her sister gave her the drug after she lost her child to Cot Death Syndrome. When she realised she had become addicted, Alison assaulted and hospitalised her sister. ‘lt‘s called bad coping strategy,‘ jokes one of the workers grimly.

‘It we had 40 beds, the unit wouldn’t be safe, and anyway we would still have 41 people

looking to use it.’

Andrew is anxious; Alison is likely to fit because she hasn‘t taken any anti- depressants for several hours. He would like to admit her to the unit but there isn‘t any room. The centre would also like to organise some bereavement counselling, but the agency Natalie phones has a six week waiting list. Alison‘s local health centre can‘t help either because it already has as many addicts as it can cope with, Natalie is told.

Another problem Dougie arrives in the waiting room with a letter for staff and a rope in his bag. The letter turns out to be an eight-page suicide note. Again Andrew would like to admit him, but there are no beds. The pressure on this new service is already immense, but Andrew knows that there is always going to be a limit to what they can tackle. ‘If we had 40 beds, the unit wouldn’t be safe, and anyway, we would still have 41 people looking to use it.’

Alison and Dougie were admitted the next day when two residents left the unit, freeing up much-needed beds. The names of the unit '3 clients have been changed. The West Street Centre is at 123 West Street. Glasgow. 0141 420 6777.

I Festival of the Environment Edinburgh‘s fifth Festival of the Environment will take place next May during National Environment Week. As 1995 will be European Nature .Conservation Year, the theme for the festival will be wildlife. lfyou would like to organise an event, or have something to offer those who already are, then Alison Sandford at the Department of Environmental Services would like to hear from you. Contact her on 031 529 3775.

I The Child Support Act The Edinburgh Engender group is holding a women-only meeting about this act on Mon 5 Dec in the Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, from 8pm. The meeting will attempt to show the act is not the victory for women that many have claimed it is. Tickets cost £3.50 (£2.50) from the Traverse box office, 031 228 1404.

I Grapevine Holidays The Lothian disability information service, Grapevine, is holding an open session on Wed 7 Dec, 2—7pm at 8 Lochend Road, Edinburgh. The session is intended to inform people who have difficulty in getting about. their families and their friends about holidays in Scotland and abroad, including self-catering and organised trips. Grapevine operates a free, confidential information service for peOpIe with all sorts ofdisabiiities on a wide range of subjects, from benefits and social services to accessibility and transport. For details call 031 555 4200. I LEAF Meeting The Lothian Environmental Action Forum is holding an open meeting on the Edinburgh District Council‘s draft environmental strategy on Wed 7 Dec at 6.45pm in the City Chambers, High Street, Edinburgh. The environmental strategy is particularly significant because it covers the period during which the new unitary authority will be introduced in the Lothians. The strategy will be introduced by the council‘s head of strategic programming and there will be an opportunity for comments from the floor. There will also be an opportunity to meet member groups of LEAF after the meeting.

I Women in Scottish Theatre The Glasgow Engender group is holding an open meeting on this subject on Mon

12 Dec at the Ramshorn Kirk, Glasgow.

from 8pm. The meeting will be addressed by Gerda Stevenson. Tickets cost £3 (£1) from the Ticket Centre, Candleriggs (041 227 5511) and the bar will be open from 7pm.

I It you have news at any events or courses which you want publicised In this column, please torward them to ‘Actlon’ at The List, 14 lllgh Street, Edinburgh EH1 HE and include a day- time phone number.