Tackling the modern epidemic of drug use in North Herts – The Comet assesses the extent of the problem and what is being done to deal with it

Laura Drane a counsellor at the Living Room

Laura Drane a counsellor at the Living Room - Credit: Archant

Drugs are an epidemic in modern society. They ruin lives, often disrupting people’s development in the crucial teenage years, destroying their mental and physical health and breaking up families.

1kg of cocaine from the laptop bag.

1kg of cocaine from the laptop bag. - Credit: Archant

They fuel crime from trivial offences like shoplifting through the whole gambit of robbery, assault, knife crime and even murder.

Any journalist will know that when covering court cases drug dependence and addiction lies behind a worryingly high percentages of cases brought before magistrates and judges.

It stretches police resources and inundates addiction help services with cases of dependency and drug abuse.

This week the Comet investigates to see how much of a problem drugs really are in our corner of North Hertfordshire and assesses what is being done to tackle drug-related crime and to help those caught up in the cycle of drug abuse.

A drugs raid carried out by Herts Police

A drugs raid carried out by Herts Police - Credit: Archant

How big is the drugs problem in North Herts?

A Freedom of Information request submitted to Herts Police makes interesting reading.

Most Read

Between January 1 2010 and December 31 2015, there were 2,436 separate cases recorded by police when quantities of drugs were seized. This is the equivalent of just over one drugs seizure every single day of the year.

A police drugs dog in action

A police drugs dog in action - Credit: Archant

In Hitchin, the total for the same period was 1,131 drug seizures – roughly one every two days.

In Royston the figure is 671 and in Baldock 134 seizures.

The drugs confiscated most commonly are wraps of herbal cannabis. This is followed by cocaine in wrap or powdered form. Amphetamines, heroin and ecstasy occurs much less frequently.

Whilst cannabis and cocaine are commonly found all the time, heroin seems to occur in spates and in certain areas, presumably in line with the supply that is available.

For example in 2012 in Stevenage, there was a spate of 33 seizures of heroin within a couple of months. In 2014 there was another rash of heroin seizure in Stevenage with 22 being made in close proximity.

By far the largest number of seizures of Class A drugs come from Stevenage as opposed to the other towns.

But there is also no doubt from the statistics that the police are chasing the drugs criminals hard.

Large numbers of offences lead to cautions, warnings or reprimands dealt out by the courts. In Stevenage in 2015, 126 seizures led to a caution. a warning or a reprimand of some variety. This was out of 311 recorded drug seizures.

In Baldock in 2015 there were five reprimands compared to 12 seizures and in Hitchin in 2015 there were 50 reprimands after 90 seizures.

How police are responding?

Chief Inspector Tannis Perks based at Stevenage and Neighbourhood Inspector Duncan Sales covering North Herts, talked candidly to the Comet and shared their views on the drug problem facing the area:

“North Herts, like most areas in the county, has a low level drug issue which is mainly for recreational use. We have seen a reduction of the offences surrounding heroin in recent years but we have seen a steady rise in the use and seizures of cocaine.

“In the past six months 19 warrants have been obtained or executed across the area.

“In Stevenage drug related crime is one of the key policing priorities and as the figures show, regular operations are carried out to tackle this issue and our work is ongoing.

“Misuse of drugs can lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour as well as an increase in acquisitive crime to fund drug addictions.

“Overt drug use within a community has a negative impact by increasing fear of crime and neighbouring residents’ quality of life.

“In North Herts and Stevenage, by using intelligence, we target identified drug dealers and execute search warrants which are obtained through the magistrates ‘court.

“This intelligence is predominantly provided by members of the public.

“Working with our partner agencies, such as the licensing trade, local authorities, housing associations and drug treatment teams we have worked hard to reduce the impact of drugs on our communities.

“As a result of this work we have been able to arrest and convict drug dealers and also make use of closure orders to shut down problem premises. These orders are obtained through the courts working with local housing associations. We also try to steer drug users, who commit all types of other crime, towards treatment which helps to prevent them continuing their life of crime and therefore reducing overall crime and the cycle of drug trafficking.

“The work against drugs will continue in North Herts and Stevenage, and across the county. Operation Crystal is the on-going county initiative to target Class A and organised drug dealing, and as always the support from the public is vital in tackling this issue. We always aim to act proportionately, so someone found with a small amount of cannabis, with no previous convictions, is likely to be given a warning but those with larger amounts who appear to be dealing should expect more severe penalties.

How can I get help?

Luckily for those who are suffering from problems with addiction and drug abuse in North Herts, there is plenty of support.

One source of help is Spectrum, Hertfordshire Drug & Alcohol Services – a statutory drug and alcohol recovery service which has bases in Stevenage and Letchworth and nine offices across the county.

It offers one-to-one support with a recovery worker for anyone over 18, experiencing substance misuse problems, and provides access to peer support – so addicts can compare experiences with people in similar circumstances, health checks and social groups. The service is run by a team of paid staff, volunteers and peer mentors and is open six days per week.

For information or to ask for support call the Stevenage office on 01438 364495, Letchworth on 01462 480944 or the out of hours line on 0800 6523169. Or visit changegrowlive.org.

Stevenage is also home to The Living Room, an award-winning abstinence based addiction recovery charity, founded by Janis Feely MBE. It runs two centres in Hertfordshire – one in Stevenage and one in St Albans and each provides free structured daytime treatment for adults over the age of 18.

Based at the Glebe in Stevenage, it deals with a wide range of issues from drug and alcohol addictions to eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, self-harm, gambling, shoplifting, relationships, love and sex.

It also has a free creche for the clients’ children and a free support group for family and friends.

Each year 120 individual addicts recover through The Living Room. Laura Drane was a recovering drugs addict who sought help at The Living Room before she trained to become a counsellor there.

She said the biggest obstacles to recovering addicts are perception and lack of education amongst non-addicts: “Education is the key because we have this false notion that addicts choose to be addicts, when they don’t.

“We need to get rid of the idea in society that sees addicts as lazy, weak, or losers.

“It’s an illness. They need help, they don’t need to be ridiculed.

“The good thing here is that we’re coming from a place of experience so clients tend to think ‘well if she can do it then so can I’. What’s wonderful about Stevenage is there is so much help for people available here should they choose to take it.

“The biggest barrier is getting over the fear because normally people are scared of giving up because they wonder how they will cope.”

For support in Stevenage and North Herts call 01438 355649.