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Ending the stigma

An innovative joint project involving Police Scotland and Turning Point Scotland’s Ayrshire Prevention, Early Intervention and Recovery Service (PEAR) is aiming to help combat problematic substance use in North Ayrshire.

For the past 18 months, officers in the community have been accompanied on a number of patrols by PEAR Service Peer Practitioners with lived experience of alcohol and other drugs use, with around a dozen successful joint patrols having taken place so far.

Having originally started in the town centres, the patrols have since moved into local communities and housing estates.

While the patrols have mostly been in the Irvine area to date, plans are in place to increase the frequency of patrols in other North Ayrshire towns over the coming year.

Peer Practitioners offer their support

The project offers an additional support mechanism for those who may be experiencing issues with alcohol and/or other drugs use, with the Peer Practitioners able to pass on vital information and advice about the help available in a relatable way, while also highlighting that recovery is achievable.

It also aims to break down the stigma surrounding alcohol and/or other drugs use, with visible patrols having led to conversations with interested members of the community, enabling a greater understanding of this as a health condition.

PEAR service Peer Support Practitioners Colin Hepburn and Linda Weir have been involved in the joint patrols – an experience they both say they have enjoyed.

Linda said: “The main benefits of the patrols are getting to know the areas people frequent to use drugs or to drink, but also the engagement we have with the community. I’ve seen first-hand that the police have a good rapport with the people we speak to in the town centre.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience to see how the police are treated when out on patrol, and I’ve really enjoyed talking to them and finding out more about their views when it comes to helping people who are vulnerable.

“It’s also been useful for them to see us, as it shows them that people can and do change with the right support.”

Colin added: “Another positive aspect of the joint patrols is that people are getting to know us – and they know that we carry and distribute Naloxone kits. We had one individual approaching us and asking for Naloxone, as they had used the kit they had on a friend to prevent them from overdosing.

“If only one person had approached us to ask for a kit then it would all have been worth it, but the fact that we have been approached several times shows us that lives are being saved.”

Working in partnership with the Locality Policing Team

Sergeant Raymond Ferguson of Police Scotland’s Irvine Locality Policing Team said: “This project has really helped to give our officers a better understanding around alcohol and drug use and the support available in our communities. Even those not involved in the patrols are now more confident in referring anyone they encounter who is need of some help to the PEAR Service, thanks to the relationships the patrols have helped us to build with Turning Point Scotland staff.

“Being out and about with the recovery workers has also opened our eyes to areas where people may be using drugs, meaning we can keep an eye out in those areas for anyone who may be in need of some help. It also has the added benefit of building trust in our officers, as many people with addiction issues may have previously been fearful or suspicious of the Police.

“Putting people with addictions in jail is not solving the problem of drugs deaths and the devastating effects of those on families and our communities. Most of those struggling with problematic drug or alcohol use did not choose that lifestyle, and don’t want to continue that lifestyle. They just need some help to get out of it, and ensuring they can access support at the right time is crucial.”

Billy Brotherston, Independent Chair of North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said: “In 2020 there were 39 drug related deaths recorded in North Ayrshire alone, each of which have been felt by not only their family and friends, but our local communities as a whole.

“Reducing the stigma of drug and alcohol misuse is crucial in helping those who are struggling with a substance use disorder. We are delighted to be involved in this important project, which removes a barrier to accessing support for those who need it, and look further to developing further joint opportunities in the future.”

Turning Point Scotland’s Prevention, Early Intervention and Recovery (PEAR) Service is a partner organisation of North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, with funding for the service being provided by North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership.

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