A PIONEERING County Durham health unit, set up to enable recovery from drug and alcohol dependency, has celebrated its success at Durham’s annual Miners’ Gala, one of the region’s best-known marches.

More than 40 members of staff and service users held aloft a banner from the recovery academy Durham, and other community services, to promote the visible recovery of drug and alcohol users in County Durham.

Opened in December 2011, the NHSfunded academy, based in Peterlee , is the first of its kind in the region.

The quasi-residential abstinencebased recovery service delivers a proven comprehensive 12-step recovery model based on the original 12 steps of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, to enable recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

Drug and Alcohol Commissioning Team commissioning support officer Victoria McManus said: “The recovery academy took six months to get up and running with NHS County Durham working in partnership with existing providers Neca; Addiction; Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust; DISC; Free the Way; Liberty; Recovery Works and the local authority.

“We now work with up to a maximum of 14 clients within the facility, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The academy principle marks a shift away from our mainstream treatment which uses prescription drugs to maintain dependency, to a total abstinence using the 12-step programme.

“It includes a course of intensive study, on a one-to-one basis with our trained peer therapists, and offers opportunities for education, employment and training.

“Marching with the banner was an inspirational way for all of our service users and staff to help to reduce the stigma of addiction and give a visual message of hope to all recovering addicts.”

More than 3,600 people are currently undertaking traditional treatments for alcohol and drug addiction across County Durham. These are delivered by one of seven substance misuse service partnership centres across the region.

Appointment to the centres can be via a GP or through self-referral, with clients then put forward for assessment to the recovery academy programme.

In addition, services are also delivered to offenders in all four of the county’s prisons as Integrated Drug Treatment Services (IDTS).

“It’s still early days for the recovery academy but we are already seeing incredible results,” said Kevin Hunt, the academy’s senior therapist.

“So far we have had seven ‘graduations’ – people who have been clean for up to six months – which is incredible.

“Clients can stay with us as long as they, and we, feel that they need 24/7 support, but we also offer unique lifelong aftercare which is crucial for their success.

“As long as they are clean everyone in our recovering community is welcome to attend our meetings, even if they have been out of the recovery system for years. We also encourage clients to attend other meetings throughout the region in other recovery communities.”

A sister project which went live on HMP Durham’s I Wing in January, allows clients to transfer to the recovery academy to begin the programme on completion of their sentence.

“We have 46 years worth of recovery history within our team of therapists, both here at the academy and in the prison,” said Kevin.

“We know the support we give is working because we have been there, gone through the 12-step programme and come out the other side – and we’re still here. It is a prerequisite for all our therapists to have personal knowledge of the 12 steps and the recovery programme.

“We invited clients from the academy, community drugs service and the prison programmes to design our banner with the simple but true line: addiction is an equal opportunities condition, it can affect anyone.

“We had people marching on the day who were in different stages of their recovery, from one or two days to months and even years. They were all carrying the message of hope, which is what it says when you first walk into our academy: There is hope here.”

The banner will be kept by the academy to be used in other recovery events across the country.

Neca area manager Dot Turton said: “The principle of Durham Big Meeting is to march for a cause and to bring communities together.

“We wanted to bring the recovery community together to show just what we have achieved in County Durham.

“The recovery academy is a unique and pioneering model of service, funded by the NHS and aligned to the treatment service.

“I’m sure that we will see an incredible success rate from our programme which will hopefully encourage the opening of similar centres across the country.”

Academy client Shaun Tulip, 38, of Peterlee held the banner on the march.

He said: “For me marching was all about promoting a message. A lot of people don’t know about this place but it has saved my life. Before coming here I had no hope, but it’s given me back my life.”

Lee Bussey, 40, of Peterlee, added: “The recovery academy was the right place at the right time for me.

It has given me a new start and new opportunities.”