ALI SAKA runs HAGAM – the Hillingdon Action Group for Addiction Management – whose headquarters is tucked away at the back of the Old Bank House at 64, High Street, Uxbridge – and he is passionate about supporting those suffering from any kind of dependency.
HAGAM was originally formed in 1985 to address the problems of drug and alcohol addiction and since then it has dealt with a growing stream of clients, who now number in the region of 600 a year.
Mr Saka, who worked for Addaction, a national alcohol and drug addiction charity, before he joined HAGAM four years ago, has 15 full and part-time staff along with a volunteer team numbering about 45, many of whom have been with the organisation for years.
“That’s really important,” he said, “because we have such a lot of experience that we can pass on to people who walk through our doors – whether it’s because they’ve been referred to us by the Criminal Justice System, the Samaritans, or it’s people like rough sleepers.”
The majority of HAGAM’s clients have problems with alcohol addiction, but therein lies a major problem for the group because the bulk of government funding available for dealing with addiction is directed towards drugs rather than alcohol.
The group costs just over £400,000 a year to run and, at present, a proportion of that comes from its contracts with the local NHS Primary Care Trust. But a sizeable chunk must be found from fundraising activities and Mr Saka says that can be a real problem.
“Addiction is not a ‘cute’ cause for which to fundraise,” he said. “There is a real stigma attached to drug and alcohol dependency and many people would rather give to a more mainstream charity.”
Which makes it all the more remarkable that HAGAM is so successful at what it does.
Mr Saka said: “When people first come to us they go through a pretty rigorous assessment to decide what their most important needs are. We talk about a hierarchy of needs – shelter, food, medical attention – and when we’ve addressed those basic wants, we can go on to look at the causes of the addiction and try to put together a full treatment and care plan.
“We also help clients to set goals to get them to realise they are making progress.”
Coming off drugs or alcohol can be a very painful process, an aspect of the treatment that many outsiders fail to understand. Withdrawal can include ‘flu-like symptoms, headaches and stomach cramps and users get really scared when they first encounter these effects.
Mr Saka said: “Heroin, in particular, is a painkiller and when you’ve been taking it for a long time and suddenly stop, your body starts to hurt very badly all over.”
Another aspect of shrugging off the shackles of drug or alcohol dependency is boredom.
Many users spend much of their lives trying to work out where they can get the money to buy their next drink or fix, so when they start detoxification, a large proportion of their time becomes free and HAGAM tries to fill it with other activities – playing XBox and Connect games, yoga sessions, volunteering with community groups, working on allotments and the like.
Mr Saka added: “The reason people work in this area is the job satisfaction that comes from helping somebody who has hit rock bottom get back on their feet. It’s a tough and emotionally demanding job but incredibly rewarding. We certainly don’t do it for the money!”
For more information about HAGAM and its services, visit the website www.hagam.com or call them on 01895 207 788.
● Next week, Mort Smith interviews four former addicts who have used HAGAM’s services to find out how it has changed their lives.