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Kicking the habit: How important are teen rehab centres?

Cannabis joint
Image caption Young people with drug addictions struggle most commonly with cannabis and alcohol

The father of Amy Winehouse met MPs this week to ask for more help for young people with substance addictions. Mitch Winehouse said one of his main concerns was the lack of publicly funded residential rehab centres for people in their teens.

The last one - Middlegate, based in Lincolnshire - closed last year leaving a glaring hole when it comes to treating young people with serious addictions, according to some drugs workers.

But how important are such centres in helping addicted teenagers?

"I started using drugs when I was 13," says former addict Dominic Ruffy. "My friends were starting to drink beer, but I didn't like it so I started smoking weed at a party.

"Within six weeks it had become a daily thing and it progressed to LSD in the same year, then ecstasy. By 16 I was snorting cocaine every day - I funded the whole thing by stealing from my parents."

Mr Ruffy, now 37, later moved on to crack and heroin before he finally entered a rehab centre five years ago - but he remembers those first years of addiction well.

His parents sought help from a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, but he says if residential care had been available to him early on, his addiction might not have escalated as far as it did.

"I ended up on crack and heroin. Had I had an intervention in my teenage years, I probably wouldn't have done.

"You have to be taken out of the equation, really, and put somewhere where you're sober, and sober for a period of time.

"You've got people saying, 'You can do it in the community' and, 'Come on my day programme', but you put me anywhere near my friends when I am trying to stop using drugs and I'll be unable to do that."

Mr Ruffy is now the spokesperson for a group campaigning to keep residential treatment centres open.

He admits that community outpatient programmes can be very effective but says, for those who need it, rehab is getting harder to access - no matter what an addict's age.

"When I was trying to access it last time around, I weighed seven-and-a-half stone and was told my life wasn't chaotic, even though I was dying in front of them."

Rehab 'makes sense'

Rehab costs about £500 a week, according to the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) - the government body that helps people get treatment - with a typical stay of around three months.

Image caption Dominic Ruffy: "You have to be taken out of the equation."

But Sarah Graham, consultant to the fledgling Amy Winehouse Foundation and a former cocaine addict, says it's a price that makes sense, both socially and economically.

"There are young people on the streets, addicted, ruining their education, getting involved in crime, ending up in detention centres, dying, who should be in rehab getting well and becoming active healthy members of the community," she says.

She also concedes that community treatments can work - especially if the problem is identified early enough - but insists that bespoke residential care for young people should still be available.

"If someone's really struggling to get clean, if they're physically dependent, or their home environment is too risky, they need to go to rehab," says the treatment specialist.

Another advantage of treating young people - who most commonly have a problem with alcohol or cannabis, says Ms Graham - is that they have a greater ability to kick the habit: "They are still experimenting with their lives and haven't got a rigid idea of who they are."

She is now working alongside Mitch Winehouse to establish a rehab centre in Amy's name, with the pair hoping the government will be able to provide long-term funding for the project.

"If we get commitment from the government to fund these beds, we want to build something really amazing, offering, for example, equine therapy, as Amy loved horses.

"Things like music therapy, drama therapy, art therapy - things that young people get a lot out of. A lot of people with addiction issues are very intelligent, creative people.

"I have no doubt that this rehab, when we get it built, will create some incredible individuals who can really contribute to society," says Ms Graham.

Keith Vaz, one of the MPs who met Mr Winehouse this week, has promised the Home Affairs Select Committee will look again at the issue of youth addiction.

Image caption Mitch Winehouse and Sarah Graham met crime and justice minister James Brokenshire this week

It could eventually mean more of the drugs-treatment budget going towards rehab.

Holistic approach

The government's National Treatment Agency however, told the BBC that young people with drugs problems are definitely not being short-changed.

It says that while there are no longer any rehab centres that focus solely on substance addiction, there are facilities that can help: "There are plenty of residential places for children in need - care homes or secure estate," said an NTA spokesman.

"There's no problem sending a child with a substance misuse problem into one of these home where they can get treatment for their problem alongside other problems."

The spokesman said the best approach was to tackle these problems together, and that substance addiction was often a symptom of other issues, such as family or mental issues.

The NTA also stresses that community treatment is the dominant therapy for most addicts (roughly 120 rehab centres compared with 1,300 community clinics) for sound scientific reasons, and that rehab should be a last resort.

"There's no independent evidence - according to NICE - that rehab is any better than other treatments," said the spokesman. "It says very clearly that it has a role to play in most serious cases, but doesn't recommend it as matter of course and says community treatment is the best bet."

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