“IN TERMS of the extent of drug issues, Swindon is a town with inner city problems.”

When Bram Tout, service manager for Inclusion Drug Service, based in Victoria Road, first arrived in Swindon six years ago he found a town whose drug users were afflicted with extreme abuse habits.

“I would say some of the experiences with the type of drugs people took and the way they took them were more typical of an inner city problem area than somewhere the size of Swindon,” he said.

“One example would be the recent trend we saw with legal highs. It is a tight-knit community and word of a new drug or how to use it gets around quickly.

“There were even people who were using to the level of injecting the drugs into their groin or neck, because the veins in their arms had broken down. This means they had been users for a long time.”

But Mr Tout says there has been a shift in attitude from simply getting people on to prescription substitutes such as methadone to freeing them from the trap of substance addiction altogether, and that this has seen the service go from strength to strength.

While the referral rate has remained steady over the last couple of years, with between 500 and 550 people in treatment at any one time, the number of people who have successfully completed the programme and could call themselves drug-free has tripled from around 30 per year to 90 last year.

And while staying off drugs can often be the most difficult part, Inclusion has recorded an eight per cent re-presentation rate, which is well below the national average of 15 per cent.

“Now the focus has changed from getting people off street drugs on to a substitute to complete abstinence, we have seen a marked difference.

“Also what we have tried to do is grow a recovery community – a community within the community if you like. With peer mentors who have been through the treatment and are now abstinent, there is someone there who can walk them through it.

“Having that person who you can trust, especially in a moment of panic where everything can go out the window, can be the difference between staying abstinent and a relapse.”

Like any NHS service, the call to reduce waiting times also exists, with the recommended period for a appointment after contact being three weeks – Inclusion has an average turnaround of six days. Mr Tout said that this was crucial in achieving the service’s recent successes.

“It is vital you catch them as close to the point of their decision to get help,” he said.

“For a lot of people making that decision it is based on a moment of crisis – something that says ‘I cannot do this anymore’.

“It could be they have been arrested in a raid, have gone to court or have had family or personal problems. We have to get in there as soon as there is that chance to do something.

“When I came to Swindon six years ago there was an average waiting time of 18 weeks and by then it could be too late and the moment might have gone.”

To contact Inclusion call 01793 610133 or visit the office at 47 Victoria Road.