DRUG treatment in Sunderland must “kick its own bad habits” and move away from “temptations” in the city centre, senior councillors have said.
Substance misuse services in the city came in for criticism earlier this month after they were branded as “still in the Dark Ages” by the boss of an organisation which helps addicts on Wearside.
It came after the publication of an independent report, created in June 2014, which raised concerns over the treatment of vulnerable users and a backlog of cases.
Sunderland has now slipped to 131 out of 152 areas, for the rate of people who leave treatment drug-free, according to figures compiled by Public Health England.
Now, cabinet members at Sunderland City Council have agreed to commence a procurement process to find a suitable organisation to take over responsibility, when the current contract comes to an end in July.
Members have given the go-ahead for director of Public Health Nonnie Crawford to appoint the appropriate service provider, to run the Sunderland Integrated Substance Misuse Service.
“It’s important that we do this right,” Coun John Kelly said. “We’ve had significant issues in this area, so we have to ensure we do this right for the people of Sunderland.
“The service has to be based around aiding recovery, not just something that will tide people over for so long.”
Council leader Paul Watson said: “The service itself needs to kick its own bad habits.
“It is located in the city centre, where all the temptations are. We need to find a place that helps people recover.”
Coun Graeme Miller said: “This has been an issue for us and we have learned lessons.”
The report says it will “incorporate lessons learned” to enable “better outcomes” for service users, families and carers, while the budget will remain at £3.079million.
Responsibility for in excess of 1,600 clients will be transferred to the preferred bidder from August, and will run on a “payment by results” basis.
A review will also take place into the Youth Drug and Alcohol Project (YDAP) to ensure it continues to perform well.
John Devitt, managing director of Counted4 said that treatment for people with drug problems in Sunderland is among the worst in the country.
“Sunderland has the biggest population of any city in the North East,” he said. “And previously, its drug treatment programme was quite a success story.
“Now, we want it to be again. One carer said to me what’s happening now ‘is like going back to the Dark Ages’.”
The family of David Pace, from Washington, have said the 26-year-old father-of-one was failed by substance misuse services and would have been alive today, had they been run properly.
David, who was dad to three-year-old Josie, died last April from a heroin overdose.
His mum Cath Wareing, 48, said: “Young people don’t know where to turn.
“David had an appointment three days before he died and if he had been offered the chance to go into rehab, he would still be here today.”