Seaham: ‘Heroin treatment allowed me to continue my recovery journey’

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James Fowler feels ‘blessed’ to be alive and recovering after relapsed earlier this year

James Fowler first tried drugs when he was 11. By age 20, he was using heroin and crack cocaine.

His story from that point on is frighteningly familiar to many who struggle with addiction – he was estranged from his family, robbed and begged from people, and spent time in prison.

But in 2019, his story took an unusual turn when he became one of the first and only people in the UK to receive free medical-grade heroin.

The Middlesbrough clinic, now closed after police and crime chief Steve Turner failed to renew funding, helped stabilize James’ turbulent life.

He quit using street drugs and started attending college with the ambition of getting a degree in psychology.

He relapsed earlier this year, but he says he feels “blessed” to have been treated with heroin, which has allowed him to survive and continue his recovery journey.

“I started drinking again, thinking I could enjoy this life and get away with it,” he says.

“In no time at all, I was barricaded in my apartment, paranoid and smoking, wishing myself dead.

But now I feel saved again.

James was born in Darlington. His childhood was surrounded by violence and substance abuse.

He spent time in Middlesbrough and recently moved to the seaside town of Seaham.

“I feel like I was left alone, raising myself. I didn’t understand what love was,” he said.

“I’ve blamed myself for that many times, but I’m an addict, so whatever my childhood was like, I think I ended up going that route.”

“Living together”

The weather is fine on this day, the temperature is about 17 degrees. We are chatting on the breakwater while the sound of the waves can be heard behind us.

“I’ve never been abroad, but I imagine it’s like this,” James said, looking out to sea.

“I love it here. It’s peaceful. I probably come here every day.”

He is now several weeks into his final sobriety period.

He said he accepted that the road to recovery is a day-by-day process.

There will be ups and downs, he said.

“I’ve always been like two people. I’ve never thought of stealing anyone or smoking crack.

“I shudder to think that that was my life.”

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The 42-year-old now lives in Seaham, a place he loves.

What is Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT)?

This treatment is already being used in countries such as Canada and Germany, where patients are given daily diamorphine.

Addiction is treated as a disease and sobriety is not the end goal.

In exchange, the patient is medically supported and has less of a need to commit crimes to buy drugs on the street.

The Middlesbrough Clinic was the first clinic in England. It opened in 2019 with a small number of patients, but closed in 2022 due to non-renewal of funding.

In Middlesbrough it cost £12,000 to put a patient on heroin support for a year.

An independent analysis of clinic data concluded that the treatment provided patient health benefits and “significantly reduced criminal behavior.”

But Cleveland Police and Crime Chief Steve Turner has renewed that funding for 2022, arguing that this is a “true public health effort” and should not be paid out of his budget. I didn’t.

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Dani Ahmed, who founded and ran the HAT clinic, said its closure was a “tragedy”.

One of the words we often hear in circles on reducing toxic effects is that once you die, you can’t get back on your feet.

This is what James has in mind.

Feeling embarrassed and ashamed to relapse after heroin treatment, now sober, he feels “proud” of his progress.

“Without that treatment, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“It got me off of dangerous drugs. I ended up doing other drugs and drinking, but it put me back in much better shape.”

“You have to keep trying, don’t give up. I feel like I got it this time, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m in a good place right now and I don’t want to.” Lose this.

“I try to be grateful every day.”

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James has jokingly described his face tattoos as “like a scene from The Hangover 2”.

During their time together, James talked a lot about their young son.

For the first time he was able to work as a father and build a relationship with him.

After the interview, James left to take him out for the afternoon.

He wants to “keep clean and sober” and eventually win custody.

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