Counselling and advice services in north Essex have seen an increase in the number of people they are seeing with cocaine-related problems. In her penultimate special report into cocaine abuse, Gazette crime reporter EMILY PARSONS looks at the help on offer to beat addiction.

Cocaine addiction used to be a middle-class habit.

Not any more. With the cost of this "upmarket" drug dropping, and dealers now looking beyond the big cities, cocaine is much cheaper and easier to come by.

Over the past few months, north Essex charity drugs agency Open Road has seen an increase in the number people with cocaine-related issues.

Alix Sheppard, a project worker with Colchester Open Road, said: "Over the past six months Open Road has helped more than 300 people tackle their cocaine misuse issues and associated problems.

"We are having more referrals for problematic cocaine use as a result of its increasing availability on the street."

Miss Sheppard said the drug is becoming "more readily available at a more affordable price", and is no longer simply a problem associated with the middle classes.

"People from all walks of life and different backgrounds access our services," she said, "from the homeless to the high flying city workers.

Open Road provides help and support for adults with alcohol or drug-related issues.

As well as offering counselling, the charity, which has centres in Colchester, Braintree, Clacton and Burnham, provides a range of other services including a needle exchange, family support, and various complementary therapies.

"We offer a 12-week intensive treatment programme, involving cognitive behavioural therapy, complimentary therapies, such as acupuncture, shiatsu and aromatherapy, counselling and help with finance, housing, debt and benefit problems," said Miss Sheppard.

"Clients can also access our Progress to Work service, which can help with finding training opportunities and increase employment options in a supported environment."

Open Road caters for adults with substance-related problems.

As an increasing number of young people become exposed to drugs, the Essex Young People's Drug and Alcohol Service (EYPDAS) is also seeing a rise in the number of people attending its clinics.

EYPDAS covers the whole of Essex, with the exception of Southend and Thurrock.

It is an integrated substance misuse service, providing a service to problematic substance users aged 18 and under, as well as supporting families, carers and professionals The service provides triage assessment and counselling, an outreach programme, an offender-related service and training.

Chris Pegley, senior outreach worker with the service, said: "Cocaine is much more popular among young people today than it was say five or ten years ago."

Recent figures released by the National Treatment Agency (NTA) for Substance Misuse revealed that 14,071 drug misusers from the East of England region were in contact with structured drug treatment programmes in 2006/07, an increase of six per cent on figures for the previous year.

NTA regional manage Janaka Perera said: "More people in the region are receiving the treatment they need.

"Drug treatment has developed considerably since 2001, and we are now meeting the challenge to make treatment more effective for the most chaotic and vulnerable individuals, as well as the communities in which they live.

"Effective drug treatment delivers benefits to individuals, reduces the spread of blood borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis within the population at large, and improves the safety of communities by reducing drug related crime."

Eight per cent of adults in the study were found to be misusing cocaine, a total of 1,094 people in the region.

Central Government has recently increased funding for treatment in the East of England from £29.5 million in 2006/07 to £29.9 millions in 2007/08.



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