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Teesside University wins grant to fund further research into Heroin Assisted Treatment pilot programme

10 November 2020


The awarding of a prestigious research grant has marked the first anniversary of a pioneering treatment programme that offers hope to the most entrenched street heroin users and reduces the enormous cost of their offending to society.

Professor Tammi Walker.
Professor Tammi Walker.

The Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) programme, the first of its type in the UK, was set up in Middlesbrough last year with the following aims:

  • Reduce the number of street deaths caused through heroin addiction
  • Promote independence, long term recovery and desistance from offending behaviour
  • Provide respite for local residents and businesses so often the victims of crime to fund addiction
  • Remove the health risks associated with street heroin and drug litter
  • Free up the substantial public resources, including health and police, currently dealing with the problem
  • Cut off the funding stream to drugs gangs.

Now Teesside University has been awarded £60,000 to carry out in depth independent evaluation of the scheme and its results – one of just 31 successful bids out of 170 applicants for an Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) award from the National Institute of Health Research.

Academics from the University’s new research Centre for Applied Psychological Science (CAPS), led by Professor Tammi Walker, will use the funding to continue and expand their research for a further 12 months from March 2021.

Working collaboratively with experts Professor Graham Towl (Durham University) and the Dr Magdalena Harris (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine), the funding will explore the experiences of individuals who have completed, discontinued or refused to engage with the HAT pilot programme and other key stakeholders. It will build on the small evaluation of 2019, but on a much larger scale.

Professor Walker, Professor of Psychology in the University’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, said: ‘New ONS data has shown that the North East is the worst area in the country for drug-related deaths – that is why this work is so important.

‘Ultimately, we want to reduce the number of drug-related deaths, but also to enhance the quality of life for individuals who are opiate dependant, cut down habit-related offending and reduce the financial cost to society.

'This work has the potential to contribute significantly to evidence-based policy relating to harm reduction and crime prevention and we are delighted that a research team from Teesside University is leading the way.'

In the past year,13 of the most ‘at risk’ individuals within Middlesbrough, for whom all other treatment has failed and who are causing most concern to Criminal Justice agencies and Health and Social Care Services, have been accepted onto the HAT pilot. Some of them had been using street heroin for over 20 years prior to joining.

Ultimately, we want to reduce the number of drug-related deaths, but also to enhance the quality of life for individuals who are opiate dependant.

Professor Tammi Walker

Analysis of six participants who have spent at least 30 weeks on the scheme revealed that before the pilot they had committed 541 detected crimes with an estimated cost to victims and the public purse of £2.1m. Since starting treatment their combined crime total fell to three lower scale offences.

In all six cases the individuals have either completed probation or shown improved compliance with their probation order.

The participants have a 98% attendance rate at the twice daily treatment sessions which have continued throughout Covid and lockdown.

Self-declared data suggests none of the participants is now sleeping rough, their use of other illicit substances has declined markedly and their mental wellbeing is improving.

The scheme treats addiction as a medical condition. Patients are assessed and visit a clinic twice a day where prescribed doses of diamorphine are administered to replace street heroin.

Where HAT differs from previous schemes is that agencies are on hand at the clinic to assist with other challenges patients may face and which may be part of the root cause of the heroin usage – for example other physical and mental health issues, debt and homelessness.

Of the 13 who have been accepted onto the scheme since its launch:

  • Six currently continue to receive treatment
  • Three left treatment voluntarily
  • In two cases treatment has been paused due to other medical issues
  • In two cases the client has left the programme after being imprisoned.

There is ongoing assessment of other potential clients to join the programme. The scheme was launched in October 2019 and is part funded by Cleveland’s Office of Police and Crime Commissioner using money seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with the clinical team led by Daniel Ahmed of the Foundations Medical Practice.

Funding has also been provided by Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company and the Tees and Wear Prisons Group and enhances existing staff resource provided by South Tees Public Health.

The pilot, which is licensed by the Home Office, has attracted interest from other local authorities, police forces and health agencies eager to find a solution to the problem of street heroin which is prevalent across the UK.

The announcement of the prestigious ARC grant award to Teesside University to carry out in depth independent evaluation of the scheme and its results illustrates how important this area of work is seen at national level.

In the News

Breaking the cycle of heroin addiction
Evening Gazette, p.22, Print, 26/11/2020
Drugs scheme proves big success.

'My life revolved around drugs - but now I can see a future': Treating heroin addiction, one year on.
Gazette Live, Web, 24/11/2020
Two participants on the scheme say they have broken the cycle of crime and addiction, and have got their lives back.

Specialist help for heroin addicts offers fresh start
Northern Echo, p.18, Print and Web, 10/11/2020
A pioneering drug treatment programme is starting to deliver results.

Middlesbrough HAT pilot has 'dramatic impact'
Drink and Drugs News, Web, 10/11/2020
The Middlesbrough heroin assisted treatment (HAT) pilot launched last year has had a ‘dramatic impact', according to the programme's clinical team lead Daniel Ahmed.