Committee against Addiction Centre cut

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A former heroin addict has given a personal testimony to a Council committee of how the Railway Street Addiction Service saved her life.

Ballymena woman Charlene McIlhatton Spence was hailed by Corporate Strategy & Scrutiny Committee members for her courage and candour in revealing details of her harrowing addiction to the Class A drug which left her on the brink of death on three occasions.

Charlene told ‘her story’ - of how the Railway Street Service literally saved her life and turned it around - in a bid to gain the committee’s support for the mounting campaign for the facility’s retention in its current form.

Last month Justice Minister David Ford announced that annual funding of around £360k provided by his department would be withdrawn for the Service at the end of January.

Charlene, who revealed she had been “clean” for the past 11 years as a direct result of the Centre’s help and support, told councillors: “It has saved lives - it has saved mine, I beg you...please help us keep this open”.

Kathy Goumas, Head of Addiction Services at Northern Health and Social Care Trust said the drugs misuse service, which has been described as a model of best practice in helping injecting drug users, currently has 270 clients “at various stages of recovery”.

The withdrawal of DoJ funding, she said, would significantly reduce the level of service available to them and result in staff cuts. “We will be a very basic service that will be pared back, meeting minimum standards,” she said.

The Committee went on to agree the proposal of Cllr Tommy Nicholl to write to both the Trust and the Local Commissioning Group “to let them see the strength of feeling there is in the Ballymena Borough” for the continuation of DoJ funding for the Service.