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Breaking the culture of shame and denial surrounding drug addiction within the Asian community will be the focus of a new drugs outreach team in Waltham Forest.
A 2003 report by the 'National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse found that people from ethnic minority communities are as-likely as their white counterparts to take illegal substances but far less likely to seek assistance in kicking the habit.
It blamed the lack of proper research surrounding drug use within such communities and the knock-on effect this has had on providing drug support services that are culturally sensitive.
In an attempt to offer a more suitable service, Waltham Forest has now a a dedicated team of drug-outreach workers specifically targeting the Asian community, and in particular the borough's large Pakistani community.
A leaflet advertises the drugs service
The service will offer tailored one-to-one advice and support for users and their families.
Shame and denial
Abd Al-Rahman, one of the three newly appointed drug outreach workers, says the reluctance to seek help from established drug services is often linked to a culture of shame and denial which causes the community to simply ignore what's happening.
"We know there are people out there in the communities suffering from issues of addictions. But trying to get the community to open up and talk about has been difficult. A lot of the time they just don't want to acknowledge that it does happen, in the [Pakistani] community."
Abd Al-Rahman says the cycle of denial and stigma surrounding substance abuse usually means many struggle in silence, unaware of the nature of addictions or the help or support that is available to them.
"There is a distinct lack of knowledge within the community about what substance abuse actually is. Parents don't know what to look out for. They are not aware of what heroin is or what cannabis is, the effects of using or the nature of addiction. So they don't know where to get help and what the nature of that help is.
Sadia Raees, Aleef Ahmed, Abd Al-Rahman
"Only a small proportion of people actually accessing [the borough's mainstream] drug services come from the black and ethnic minority communities – but that number is completely unrepresentative of the people within those communities who need help.
"Our work will focus on reaching out to the [Pakistani] community, to those people who may have issues surrounding substance abuse but just don't know how to cope or even where to get help.
"This new service means we can offer them the initial support and advice and hopefully draw them into the [mainstream drug] services that will help them to overcome their addictions."
Getting the message out
The three-strong team, whose work will supplement services already being offered by the QALB centre in Walthamstow - a counselling service tailored for the Asian community.
A leaflet promising confidential support and advice on the phone or in person have been designed to attract all corners of the Asian community and challenge pre-conceived perceptions about the type of person with a drug or alcohol habit.
"When designing the leaflet we wanted to address the identity factor – that you can be a son, a mother a daughter and a drug user," says Sadia Raees, one of the new drug outreach workers at QALB. "Different nationality flags appear on the leaflet to target people from different ethnic minority communities that we're trying to reach."
Softly softly approach
The team says it is also aware that for those accessing mainstream services for the first time, it can be a daunting step.
Aleef Ahmed another member of the drugs outreach team says part of their work will be to build up a rapport with those who come to them for help instead of pushing them straight into drug rehabilitation.
"A lot of the time you see addicts getting put straight into the system but it doesn't work because they're not ready for it and end up getting thrown off the [mainstream drug] service.
"But we'll only take [users] into drug services when they're ready. So we'll spend the time to meet up with them, get to know them and offer some informal counselling until they're ready to make the next step."
Helping families cope
But it is not just about helping individuals conquer their drug and alcohol addictions, says Abd Al-Rahman. He says treatment is only half of the equation when dealing with individuals and families affected by substance misuse.
"Treatment for users is all about being non-judgemental, and supportive. Often this can be undermined by the family's reaction to, if say for example, [the user] has a relapse. A family will often think it's because [the user] is not serious about getting clean. But that's not always the case. So we try to help families understand the nature of addiction, how to cope with it and how to work with drug treatment rather than against it."
Qalb Outreach provides confidential, tailored support and advice for those within the Asian community suffering from drug or alcohol misuse. Call or text 07522 336678/07522 336733 or call the Qalb office on 020 8521 5223.
last updated: 03/10/2008 at 19:27