Calls made for ‘different approach’ to youngsters involved in drug crime

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington’s drug and alcohol service, Better Lives, is gearing up to take a “different approach” to the exploitation of young people in drugs and serious violence.

The Town Hall has long called for a national strategy to counter county lines drug dealing, with the bus stop outside City and Islington College marked out in reporting this year as a “pre-eminent location” for dealers to operate.

Councillors have also pointed out that the prevalence of drug use in the borough could be higher than previously thought, with the presence of “open drug markets” in Finsbury Park and Kings Cross not being taken into account.

Officers from Better Lives are now identifying young people as a “priority area”, with an increasing amount of 17 to 18-year-olds using the service in a “pretty bad state”, something that senior service manager Peter Kane says has not been seen before.

Kane said: “It’s not just a questiom of what’s on offer, but a question of how you get these young people away from being trapped in this sytstem. It has to be a whiole system approach.

“We and the police ned to get involved and come up with some plan that will not just offer some service for young people but get them out of the system.

“They’re not here, they’re going everywhere around the country, and it’s about trying to get them back from that. The whole system has to offer something to those young people.

“There’s one lad at Finsbury Park who sits outside Tesco. I hassle him every day on my way home, and he’s declining, and he still hasn’t got there yet. You’ve got that situation where people absolutely know and they still won’t go. People can be almost dying, and they still won’t go.”

The service is now looking at ways to intervene early, in order to divert and stop drug dependencies and deaths before they occur, with officers running Better Lives looking at “who we need to bring around the table” to ensure the work gets done.

Different approaches in work around the drug markets in Finsbury Park are now being looked at by the service, with Better Lives increasingly looking at ways not just to work with Islington residents who need their help, but also those “coming into the borough to access the supply that is available”.

The service is not just taking a more collaborative approach with the police, who inform Better Lives if they have just raided a crackhouse, for example, but are also looking at a holistic health approach.

This involves getting drug users to stop smoking alongside their drug addiction, as respiratory conditions contribute to drug-related deaths, but “often get pushed aside”.

People with opiate addiction can often present with secondary alcohol addiction, the long-term consequences of whihc can kill them rather than the opiates, according to officers.

Cllr Joe Caluori said: “We regard that as a very important impact of the prohibition of heroin and crack.

“Do the National Drug Treatment Monitoring Service prevalence estimates account for the fact that we have open drug markets in Finsbury Park and Kings Cross? Could our demand, or unmet need, actually be higher than we think?

“If unmet need doesn’t account for our open drug market, then it’s probably not correct – the actual figure would be somewhat higher. It’s possible the amount of unmet need is higher.”