The REST Project, based at MIND in Camden, has been providing essential support services to patients suffering from dependence and withdrawal from benzodiazepines for 30 years. During this time it has helped thousands of clients safely withdraw from long term use of sedatives, tranquilisers and sleeping pills, through specialised group meetings and personalised support. Around 130 clients use the service, with around 40 new clients joining each year. The total cost of the service is £48,425 per annum, or around £372 per client each year.
REST has recently received a letter from the Commissioning Manager for Camden’s Substance Misuse Services (funded by the Camden CCG) which informs the project that its contract will be terminated at the end of March 2019. It is understood that no alternative specialist provision will be made for these clients, and that they will be expected to access illicit drug and alcohol treatment services which are inappropriate for patients taking prescription drugs. REST’s clients have expressed shock, sadness and incomprehension at the news.
REST is one of only six charities in the UK providing support to patients affected by prescribed drug dependence. Together, they cover a tiny fraction of the country. Two other charities, Recovery Road in Cardiff and CITA in Liverpool, have also closed in recent years due to lack of funding. These closures coincide with a dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions for addictive, psychoactive drugs being given to adults and children. A study published by NatCen in 2017 on dependence forming medications showed the rates of prescribing had increased by 50% from 2000 to 2015, with over 9% of the population taking either a benzodiazepine, z-drug, gaba-ergic drug, or opioid. In addition, around 10% of the population is estimated to be taking antidepressants, which can also cause severe long term withdrawal effects.
The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence will be meeting on 24 January to discuss the issue. It calls upon the Camden CCG to reverse this decision and to continue to provide funding for local patients affected by prescribed drug dependence.
Paul Flynn MP, chair of the APPG, said: ‘The REST Project in Camden has been running for 30 years, providing a life-saving service to thousands of patients in Camden affected by benzodiazepine and sleeping pill dependence.
The national situation is getting worse, not better, with increasing numbers of prescriptions for addictive medicines being handed out by doctors. So, while we recognise that the health service is under pressure to find savings, we believe that closing the REST Project is short-sighted, and will lead to unnecessary suffering and uncertainty for its clients.’
More information on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence can be found at prescribeddrug.org.