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Focus: Substance abuse is filling graveyards and prisons

Raising the alarm: Leslie Grant, executive director of Focus Counselling (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Rampant drug and alcohol abuse are “strong contributors” to many of the island’s social ills, the head of a leading addiction service has warned.

But the agencies that tackle addiction are “understaffed, under-resourced, underfunded”, warned Leslie Grant, executive director of Focus Counselling in St George’s.

“Substance use in Bermuda is through the roof, and use and its related behaviours are strongly linked to where we are right now,” Mr Grant said, as Focus highlighted September as Recovery Month.

“I would say it’s involved in some way in 80-plus per cent of our violent crime.”

The group’s message for September is that while addiction can hit anybody, anybody can also overcome it.

Even as Focus celebrates recovery, Mr Grant said the organisation had “buried two of our close friends in the last three weeks, due to substance abuse related illness”.

Alcohol, crack cocaine and opioids were said to be the island’s primary addictions, but Focus is seeing a rise over the past two years in overdoses where the lethally strong opiate fentanyl is suspected.

“We talk about the opioid crisis epidemic in other countries, but Bermuda has a substance use epidemic,” Mr Grant said. “It’s under-reported and doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but its knock-on effects are filling up our graveyards and prisons.”

Bermuda’s appetite for alcohol and illicit substances is “consistently” implicated in “a lot of the social ills such as stabbings, shootings, general violence and frustration”, he said.

Mr Grant added three quarters of addicts went unknown until “the bottom drops out – whether it’s losing a job or home, a relationship at risk or there’s no more money”.

He estimated the island easily contained 5,000 people grappling with substance use disorder, as addiction is commonly known.

“I’m not saying we’re the cure – but we’re part of the solution,” Mr Grant added.

He said that Focus, which moved from its headquarters in Hamilton to St George’s in May, has seen an increase in clients since the move to the East End.

The service runs eight single residences and four studio apartments for people in need.

Five people have completed its impaired driving programme, and there have been perhaps 30 inquiries since Focus relocated.

“Some folks might think St George’s is a long haul,” Mr Grant said. “But we’ve people coming to us from Boaz Island, Sandys, for treatment with no qualms.”

Recovery Month, also observed by the Department for National Drug Control, is “all about celebrating recovery and showing that it’s possible”.

For 2022, the 33rd observance of Recovery Month, the theme is “Recovery is for Everyone: Every person, Every Family, Every Community”.

One of the Focus counsellors, a recovered addict who spent nearly 30 years hooked, said his own journey was testament that “anyone can recover – it really is possible”.

Requesting not to be named, he added: “When I was in active use, I didn’t think it was possible.

“But then I found narcotics anonymous, the 12-step programme. Focus Counselling helped me out tremendously.

“I don’t think I would have survived. I was homeless. Focus gave me somewhere to go.”

Ultimately, helping with recovery became a job.

“The greatest part about it is my job, helping other addicts to recover. I can bring that level of empathy that counsellors should have. Recovery itself is empathy.”

He said addicts needed to tap into empathy for themselves as they defeated their dependencies.

“Everybody needs a helping hand,” he said. “In my job now, I see someone come in broken and help them find a better way to live. I still have friends I helped along the way that I’m in contact with daily.”

Asked for his message to people in pain from addiction, he said: “Get yourself to a meeting. Reach out for help.

“You can’t get help if nobody knows you’re hurting. Get yourself there and talk about it. Pain shared is pain lessened. Just do it for yourself.

“Tell yourself that today you’re not going to use. It is possible.”

Roger Trott, the Focus programme manager, agreed that illicit drugs and their distribution were linked to the island’s social ills.

He added young people needed to understand the serious risks of cannabis use to the developing brain.

“It’s decriminalised, but it’s still illegal,” he said. “That’s probably where we as a community could do a better job ensuring that the distinction is made.”

Mr Trott said some were under the illusion that substance use harmed “certain demographics” more than others.

“That’s definitely not true,” he said. “It’s everyone in Bermuda, across groups and classes and vocations.”

To get help, contact Focus at 296-2196. For more information, e-mail info.focus@focus.bm.

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Published September 07, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated September 07, 2022 at 7:49 am)

Focus: Substance abuse is filling graveyards and prisons

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