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Posted on 14th October 2020

Innovative whole system approach shows success in tackling drug-related harm in Blackpool

Faced with the highest rate of drug-related deaths in England and Wales, a new report from drug treatment provider Delphi Medical and Camurus shows how local council, police and drug treatment services in Blackpool  are adopting an innovative model to drive change.

• Blackpool has a complex pattern of poverty, unemployment and inequality – making reversing the drug-related death trend difficult
• Drugs impact several aspects of Blackpool local services including: physical and mental healthcare, policing and children’s services
• The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people accessing drug treatment while reshaping the way organisations can deliver support
• The drug misuse treatment budget for adults in Blackpool fell by 72 per cent between 2015-16 and 2018/193
• A multi-service group has been created to combat drug-related harm in Blackpool, involving key figures from Blackpool Council, the Lancashire Constabulary, Delphi Medical, the North West Ambulance Service and other local partners

Blackpool’s long-standing history of problems associated with drug use affect almost every facet of local society. Following widespread national cuts to public health funding, drug treatment services in the town have been forced to operate on drastically reduced budgets. A new report, released today, outlines the holistic approach taken by local service providers in Blackpool to create better support and outcomes for some of the most vulnerable people in society – amidst unprecedented challenges. With the collaborative approach already showing positive results, the report details a step-change in preventing drug-related harm in Blackpool, and offers an innovative collaborative model for services across the country faced with increasing budget cuts.

The problem
The human toll of drugs use in Blackpool is felt far and wide across health, welfare and policing services. While the most direct and devastating impact in the loss of life, drug use also manifests across individuals and society in many ways. Blackpool has a higher rate of deaths related to drug misuse than any other local authority in England and Wales since 2009 and in 2018 alone, there were 38 drug-related deaths in Blackpool. The wider societal problems of drug-use in Blackpool are farreaching. For example, people who use drugs are less likely to engage with local GP services, leading to a strain on acute medical services, while a high proportion will require extensive mental health support.

From a policing perspective, those at risk of drug-related death are also likely to have prior convictions, with over 80% of the highest-risk individuals last year holding previous convictions for theft. The complex needs of drug users extend into children’s services too, with many children in the care system in Blackpool previously exposed to parental drug use. Despite this, the drug misuse treatment budget for adults in Blackpool fell by 72% between 2015/16 and 2018/19 – two times higher
than the average fall across England in that period. With drug-related harm at record levels, it became increasingly clear that a bold, innovative and integrated approach was needed.

The solution

At the heart of this new approach is a Drugs-Related Death and Non-Fatal Overdose (DRDNFO) Review Panel bringing together key figures from local services that frequently interact with people who use drugs, with the aim to prevent drug-related harm in Blackpool. Chaired by the Chief Inspector of the Lancashire Constabulary and the Public Health Coordinator at Blackpool Council, the Panel’s core members include representatives from: North West Ambulance Service, Horizon Treatment Service and its lead provider, Delphi Medical, HM Coroner, Blackpool & Fylde CCG and Lancashire South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. By meeting regularly, with attendance where necessary from other
stakeholders, the Panel can collaborate closely and pool knowledge as they review cases of drugrelated deaths and non-fatal overdoses. The Panel is also able to identify the ‘Top 20’ most at-risk individuals and establish a support plan, drawing on support from across the health and social care spectrum. Initial funding to establish the Panel was provided by the Home Office.

COVID-19 and its impact
When the crisis hit, there was the additional challenge of adapting services to ensure continued
support for vulnerable individuals accessing drug treatment and support services, while minimising risks to support staff. Support services took an innovative approach to managing the crisis, organising virtual support meetings and providing mobile phones to support telephone-based outreach. While the full impact of the pandemic will only become evident with more time, early outcomes indicate that there are beneficial effects of the changes. There’s also been positive feedback from support staff
who felt they were able to use informal drop-ins and longer phone calls to better connect with service users throughout the lockdown.

Outcomes so far
Early results are promising. A key achievement so far has been reducing the risk of drug-related death for service users, with four individuals removed from the high-risk category following a coordinated
outreach effort by the Panel. On a broader level, the Panel has successfully transformed the previously siloed approach to combatting drug-related harm in Blackpool. By fostering open dialogue and collaboration, the Panel has been able to employ a person-centred approach to those accessing support.

The success of the Panel has been testament to the extraordinary determination amongst local services to do everything in their power to overturn the rising number of drug-related deaths. The progress achieved in a short space of time – despite the pandemic and spending challenges – shows how innovation and collaboration can enforce real positive change when faced with the complex and interconnected problem of drug-related harm in a community.

Emma Knape, Company Lead, Delphi Medical said: ‘As the lead provider of the drug and alcohol addiction service in Blackpool, Delphi Medical are wholly committed to playing our role in driving forward change in the town.

We want better outcomes for the people who use our services, and examples such as the DRD Panel demonstrate the wider appetite to work collaboratively and more creatively to reach these improved
outcomes. However, the facts are that people continue to face increasingly difficult issues and experiences related to drug misuse, be it their own misuse or that of a member of their family or community.

We believe that all areas, especially those dealing with a high levels of drug related deaths, require urgent increased focus and resource to drive effective and sustainable change in response to this
local and nationwide emergency.’

DCI John Clegg, Lancashire Constabulary, said: ‘Drug Related Death and drug related non-fatal overdose episodes are preventable health harms that have a widespread effect on our community.

Through the partnership working developed with key stakeholders across Blackpool, we have established a panel of professionals who have brought a collaborative difference to improving a desperate situation for the lives of those directly and indirectly affected.

By channelling our collective understanding of the issues in Blackpool and recognising that traditional approaches don’t necessarily prioritise and support the most vulnerable across the drug community, we have been able to bring about real change.

I’m immensely proud of the work the panel has achieved so far and look forward to seeing its continued success.’

Emily Davis, Harm Reduction Lead, Public Health Blackpool Council said: “With support from all members of the panel, we are collectively attempting to prevent untimely and quite frankly, unnecessary deaths of people living in Blackpool. We have really good people working in this town and we need to continue this good partnership work for the benefit of those at risk.

We’ve started something really positive and I hope that we continue to make things better for those stuck in a cycle of addiction because there is a way out and I want us all to be ready for when that window of opportunity arises”

Read our report here.

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