Back in 2010 there was a, from the outset, dramatic shift in drug policy where ‘Recovery’ became the buzz word on the tongues of a ‘new’ or revived breed of activist, and the targets of ‘guiding lights’  and services became more driven towards abstinence rather than evidence based safety of drug users. The harm reduction way came under ‘attack’ as not delivering the goods although it was in fact keeping people alive, this was not seen as a successful outcome!! and abstinance joined the debate as the ‘only’ way forward. This in itself was actually a flawed argument from the start as most of those who were to frontline the ‘new’ movement had found their foundations in the support of various harm reduction services and possibly wouldn’t have been around had it not been for that support and guidance at the time when they needed it most.  The activists that took to this new ‘movement’ took the old ‘recovery meeting’ setting out of the dingy basement rooms and back alley church halls and began to parade the streets making their recovery visible to the ‘still suffering’ (a lovely and well used phrase in recovery dialogue) on the streets of major cities and towns. Some would argue that this was a breach of one of the age old traditions of the most prominent form of recovery oriented mutual aid, the 12 steps, but others would argue that it was ‘their’ anonymity and they had the choice whether or not they wanted to expose themselves. This movement gathered momentum and support from a number of prominent services, activists and ‘guiding lights’ and the numbers grew. Positive feedback was coming in from all over the country as groups sprung up all over the place advocating for the ‘new’ recovery movement. Advocates from all over the world looked on and joined in this ‘new’ and vibrant movement as it looked like it was set to make significant change in the field….and believe me it did!!….but!!!! What of those who were being left behind and lost in the flack and crossfire. 

  This movement was all well and good and it’s intention may well have been as good as the members who made it happen. However, there were a few major problematic issues on the horizon. There became a delicate but obvious divide in those out there seeking recovery, whatever that meant to them, and those who had already found it, whatever that means…full stop!  A large number of the groups out there who moved over into, or were born into, the ‘abstinent’ focused recovery, (again a play on words as the ultimate goal of any harm reduction advocate was abstinence as well and staying alive long enough to enjoy rather than endure with a number of reminders of the lifestyle such as health issues and other less obvious ailments like the emotional scars of stigma) became almost exclusive in their membership, just like the other abstinent focused models. Targets were being put in place and in order to survive in the cutthroat world of the charity ‘status’ sector, ‘status’ had to be seen to be driven by abstinence. Some members of our communities who had struggled for years or were still struggling to achieve that ‘status’ became alienated, or ostracized by the movement. Some even feeling intimidated by the overwhelming attention, or lack of, that was gaining momentum at a, some would say too, rapid rate. Little to no attention was being given to those members of our communities. People seem to be losing touch of their own pasts and their own struggles. Put it down to passion, dedication, fear, ego, ignorance or whatever you like to think would justify this kind of action. The reaching out to the newcomer principle seemed to be slipping away and unless you reached a stable, acceptable, point in your recovery, that seemed to be abstinence, then you ran the risk of being left behind. I’m aware of the concept of attraction rather than promotion and this may or may not have been the idea behind taking recovery to the streets but there is also an element of promotion to this that at times is outweighing the whole concept. Some service user groups held onto their grass routes origins and dug their heals in with the old time served traditions and beliefs that had served them, and thousands of others well. Unfortunately this has also become a problem area in many towns and cities where there were already established autonomous groups in action.  

  A lot of the groups moved on to become a community interest companies, or charities in their own right, a worthwhile goal of any mutual aid group and the ideal outcome for most, you would think, one that would be supported by all, you would think, one that would lead to empowerment and ultimate positive support networking,,,,you would think. Think again. The big society idea was to turn on itself and ultimately become disempowering, unsupported, and anything but positive. Some groups still survive, however there were some grass routes groups up and down the country that were swallowed up by the whole ‘new’ movement….unless they entered into an almost toxic relationship with an already recognised organisation. The tender process that took place all over the country saw, what was supposed to be a positive move forward supporting, grass roots, peer led, mutual aid with long term support offered out, and, an all inclusive one stop shop outcome for most areas. This has not materialised in a number of areas. Instead the ‘winners’ of the tenders have moved in to enforce their own brand of recovery on those in their locale and there seems to be no if’s or butt’s as to the way this is being rolled out in those areas (yes I did misspell on purpose). We have entered into the age of ‘enforced’ recovery and it is not a healthy step forward in anyone’s books. I understand that specific targets need to be met under the ‘amazing’ payments by results scheme. A really positive addition to the decaying and already struggling sector….but at what cost!!!!

  Some groups have seen this for what it is and have removed themselves from the ‘movement’ some have sold out and entered into the previously mentioned toxic relationship and yet others have been smashed to bits in the whole process. Feedback from some areas is sad and scary to say the least. In some areas the early adopters and established groups were told in no uncertain terms that they could not go for the tender for reasons that are not all too clear but at the same time to those who have their fingers on the pulse, all to obvious.  This in itself casts doubt over the whole 2010 policy drive to enhance and promote peer led involvement and mutual aid. 

   I fear the, at one point, seemingly unstoppable movement, has reached a point where it is becoming an exclusive, and at times directed, bigger society that was not expected by the guiding lights who wanted it to happen. The voice of those who are involved at the deepest levels are being gagged or worse still converted to carry a disturbing and dangerous message to communities that they set out to serve….partially!

   I personally would have advocated for a unified venture with equal attention given to every member of our community, and still do regardless. There is no recovery in a graveyard!!!!

  This is my personal view through what I hope are tainted glasses and I hope that if I am wrong, like a number of others who have feedback similar stories,  it doesn’t become a self fulfilling prophecy. The last thing you expect to hear from a sector that deals with peoples lives is….I’m sorry but we may have made a mistake!!!!!

  Would love to here your views on this. 



  1. Pingback: In the Booth with Ruth – Kevin Jaffray, Drug Harm Reduction & Recovery Activist | Ruth Jacobs


  3. Agree 100% with “Another comment came through” – very brave of anyone to speak this particular truth when so many have been gagged, ostracised, had CQC set on them, been the target of whispering campaigns or lost their living for trying to do the right thing in the face of the emperor/empress’s very new clothes.


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