28 November 2010

Why the Release Helpline is still essential!

It's depressing news that the Release helpline is facing a funding crisis and faces closure imminently if funding can't be secured.

It can't really be stressed how unique and essential the Release Helpline is. From an outside perspective, Government and funders may well think that the Release helpline is no longer required due to the presence of Frank, the Government-funded helpline. But in practice, Frank is only able to provide a superficial service, skimming across the top of key issues and providing a basic level of information to children and young people. Anyone requiring anything more complex needs to be referred - and all too often the Frank helpline operator will redirect the person to Release.

Frank has been a huge money-pit. Between 2006 and 2008 Frank blew more than £3.5m in advertising alone - more than Release's income for the entire period 2005 through 2009. And it is an ongoing scandal that the rebranded service has had so much money lavished on it and yet cannot deliver a proper telephone help service for drug users. In a situation where the state-funded drugs helpline is unable to manage complex calls, and indeed acknowledges this by referring such calls, it seems only fair that proportion of the money lavished on it are diverted to fund helplines capable of delivering such work.

Sadly, this situation is not new, and while it is to be hoped Frank's funding and running will be reviewed, any such review is likely to come too late for the Release helpline.

In the months and years to come, the Release helpline will be needed more than any time since its inception in the late Sixties. Changes to prescribing practice are likely to see patients on opiate substitutes having to fight for treatment, especially as time-limits on prescribing become more wideplace and prescribers become more rigid in relation to use on top. Changes to welfare rules and housing strategy will also see more drug users seeking help as they encounter benefit or housing problems. While local services such as CAB offer an indispensable service (but are themselves terribly over stretched) callers desperately need a service that understands drugs,treatment, law, housing, benefits, employment and is able to access this service for free and by phone.

Release has had a number of funding scares and but this one, coming as it does at  a time of increased need and huge austerity is the worst for a long time. It is imperative that the Helpline survives this crisis.

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