‘Worrying’ new drug stats published

An addiction support group for women has been launched in Weston.

An addiction support group for women has been launched in Weston. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

AFTER more than a decade spent trying to rid Weston of its drug problems, the town has again been branded a national drug abuse hotspot – while town figures fear the latest statistics may only be the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

‘Worrying’ new statistics have pinpointed North Somerset as one of the country’s worst areas for drug and alcohol addicts claiming benefits.

The district ranks fifth in the country for people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for a ‘primary medical condition’ of drug misuse, and eighth for alcohol.

North Somerset Liberal Democrat leader, Mike Bell, blamed the figures on the ‘vicious cycle’ of addiction.

He said: “The latest official stats are probably the tip of the iceberg, as not all addicts will be claiming benefits.

“I think we have still got a problem, particularly in Weston, with a high number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation places. We still receive high numbers of addicts from elsewhere, and this means we do have higher numbers of people here who are recovering from addiction.

“These people might not always have the best level of support and it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. We bring in high numbers of addicts in the first place, who might fall out of the system, and the town then ends up attracting more drug dealers and people who peddle cheap booze.”

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Some 260 people in North Somerset claim ESA for a drug problem, while 280 do so for alcohol issues. This equates in each case to around four per cent of North Somerset’s ESA recipients.

Weston’s MP John Penrose launched the Cleaner Weston Campaign in 2004 to try to clean up the town’s drug issues.

He says the number of rehab beds in the town has halved over the past 10 years and addicts now have a much better chance of staying clean.

He said: “These figures are not huge, in that only four per cent of ESA claimants receive it for drug and alcohol problems. However, being in the top 10 nationally is still not a good place to be.

“Weston has come a long way, but this shows the job is still not finished.

“I think we would have been much higher in the table five or 10 years ago, but Weston has made huge strides in this area and we need to carry on moving in the right direction.

“We have got a system that is working, and we should not slack off or relax.”

Addiction recovery charity Addaction, which operates in Weston from the Boulevard, describes the latest statistics as ‘unhelpful’.

A spokesman said: “North Somerset has a population of more than 200,000 people. These figures – 280 people – are a tiny proportion of that number and they show the danger of inflaming public opinion by stigmatising people who have issues with addiction.

“Focusing on the benefit claims of people affected by addiction is unhelpful and stigmatises people who need support, compassion, treatment and hope.

“ESA is for people who are ill or disabled, so to claim it you need to be not merely struggling with an addiction, but to be suffering from a serious health issue as certified by a medical professional.”

North Somerset Council, too, works to support organisations which help addicts across the district.

A spokesman said: “We remain committed to supporting individuals in overcoming substance use problems and have recently re-commissioned an integrated drug and alcohol treatment service.”