USERS on Middlesbrough’s new drug treatment scheme have called it “life changing” as early findings show a significant reduction of offending since its launch.

A 42-year-old man, who does not want to be named, is one of 11 participants currently on the town’s Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) programme.

Struggling with heroin addiction for the last 20 years after getting hooked in prison, he would shoplift at least £80 worth of goods from local stores in Middlesbrough, on a daily basis, to fund his habit prior to the scheme.

He said: “I’ve been in treatment since 1999 and I’ve never gone without heroin in all that time. I’ve spent a lot of time in jail, but I used in there as well.

“I want to be totally abstinent of everything and then help other people do it. I’ve been through it and I know what the problems are.

“There’s not many of us on the scheme, we’ve been given the chance of a lifetime and you can see the difference in everyone.”

HAT, launched in October 2019, supports those with heroin dependency where all traditional drug treatments have failed.

The scheme aimed to reduce crime, decrease the financial strain on public services, cut off funding to criminal gangs and tackle the region’s high levels of drug-related death.

Committing in excess of 900 crimes, the offending behaviour of the current 11 participants has cost the tax payer a total of £3.7m.

Just one participant to date has re-offended since entering treatment. 

They received a custodial sentence and are no longer taking part in the programme.

The group is increasingly testing negative for street heroin use and the attendance rate for the twice-daily treatment stands at 99 per cent.

Clinical lead Danny Ahmed said: “Evidence from countries like Canada and Switzerland told us that Heroin Assisted Treatment could work here in Middlesbrough, but I continue to be impressed with overwhelming change in our participants in such a short time frame.

“The majority of these individuals have battled addiction for decades and they are finally able to lift their head out of the daily struggle of substance use and look forward to living life.”

The pilot was initially funded for 12 months by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Foundations Medical Practice, Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company, Tees and Wear Prisons Group and South Tees Public Health.

PCC Barry Coppinger, who plans to use money seized from criminal gangs to further drug treatment services across Cleveland, said: “Early findings from the HAT project shows that there IS a chance for those in the depths of addiction to see light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’d love to see the scheme rolled out to the other boroughs in Cleveland and some discussions have already taken place."