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Oldham Chronicle
July 28, 2005

An American visitor praised Oldham’s innovative tranquilliser addiction treatment service when it was officially opened yesterday.

The service, at the Alcohol and Drug Service (ADS) centre in Greaves Street, Oldham, was described as extraordinary by psychotherapist Alison Kellagher, from Colorado, while others said it was a model for the country.

She said she was addicted to benzodiazepines for 17 years before weaning herself off them three and a half years ago, and added: “Almost nothing is going on in America. Basically, people are going cold turkey.”

No Oldham GPs attended but other health professionals and addiction campaigners from all over England and Wales heard specialist benzodiazepine withdrawal worker Jo Blanchard describe how the Oldham service, established last year, is treating 90 people aged from 22 to 83.

She said: “We treat the individual not just their addiction. My major work is motivation. Some people are still too scared to ask certain GPs to access the service.

“GPs are referring older people to the service. My oldest client is 83.”

So far 15 people have been discharged, 15 have withdrawn from the drugs, 12 are still giving them up, and 36 are in the process of withdrawing, but 12 invited addicts have never attended.

The service, funded by Oldham Primary Care Trust, was held up by visitors as a model which is leading the country. One said: “I have had to come from the south of England, Bournemouth, to hear about this. You are leading the country.”

They praised the local campaigner Barry Haslam, of the Beat the Benzos campaign, who fought for the service when the new PCT was established in April, 2002.

Liz Smith, the ADS chief executive, told him: “You need someone to go out there and really fight and lobby, even though it sometimes feels it will never happen.

“You have been an ambassador and people have begun to listen and realise that patients and clients were the real experts.

“Early evaluation is dem-onstrating good outcomes. It is a much-needed service and we know it can transform people’s lives.”

PCT chief executive Gail Richards said audits estimated that Oldham has over 5,000 benzo addicts, due to a long history of prescription under its predecessor, the West Pennine Health Auth-ority, and “years and years of under investment in community and mental health provision”.

And she warned: “Although some (addicts) are long-term users, some are new people. This is a very much-needed service and there will be recurrent money for it.”

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