Drugs: a new kind of rural pursuit: A mobile unit is touring the countryside to help combat the growing problem of the village addict

THE CAMPER van parked near a red-brick bus shelter in Shipton Bellinger, a peaceful village tucked into the folds of the Hampshire hills, looks as though it might hold a family en route to the south coast, pausing for a rest on a long journey. Inside, however, are Pete Edwards, a drugs counsellor and dispenser of clean needles to addicts, and Gary and Anne, recovering heroin users.

The van is a mobile advice centre run by the Community Drugs Advisory Service, and its presence is evidence that drug abuse has spread to the market towns and villages of rural Britain.

The CDAS, based in Winchester, now operates 85 per cent of its service in such places. 'People think only inner-city areas experience drug problems, but that's nonsense,' says its manager, Derek Harper.

A survey of 2,047 East Sussex schoolchildren revealed that a fifth of youngsters aged 14 and 15 in rural areas had tried an illegal drug. Lack of leisure facilities and poor transport were pinpointed as reasons.

In the pretty Cotswold villages of Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold, the availability of drugs has contributed to a 17 per cent increase in rural crime; rural crime generally is rising at a faster rate than in urban areas, according to recent research by the Labour Party.

Youngsters in country areas are experimenting with a variety of new substances. In the town of Driffield in Humberside, teenagers were found to be injecting themselves with pig tranquillisers stolen from farms, and in Gloucestershire an incident of silage-sniffing has been reported.

Other veterinary products including Ketamine and Phencyclidine have already found their way on to the dance scene under the names Special K and Angel Dust.

But the full extent of the problem in rural areas is still largely hidden because many people are afraid of admitting their problems to their GP.

Police in country areas are now trained to recognise signs of drug use in the same way as their urban counterparts. Parents in the affluent village of Wetherby, West Yorkshire, were stunned recently when an officer uncovered a large number of Ecstasy users in one school.

Transport is a major problem facing drug users in rural areas who want to seek advice and counselling. Hampshire's mobile drugs advisory service, which calls in at villages once a fortnight, was created to help rural drug abusers feel less isolated.

With buses passing through Shipton Bellinger only twice a day, Gary makes a three-mile round trip on foot to pick up his methadone from the nearest pharmacy three times a week. But knowing that he could buy a fix just a street away puts an added strain on his will to resist heroin.

'We visit people at home, on farms or in the camper,' explains Pete Edwards, the service's psychiatric nurse, who travels 600 miles a month around Hampshire's Test Valley region. 'I've met one man in a car park and been out for a drive in the country with others. Sometimes they just want to talk about football and other times they want advice on how to deal with their problems.'

For outreach workers, dealing with country areas makes different demands from urban drug counselling and often calls for ingenuity and flexibility. Helpers on a Gloucester drug project are as likely to offer counselling in pubs and street corners as going for a stroll in the Cotswolds.

Says Mr Edwards: 'I'm not just seen as Pete the drug worker but a member of the community, which is quite different from my experiences as an inner-city drug worker.'

Eric, 36, and his wife, Sylv, 39, took heroin for 10 years - five of them as dealers. They claim heroin is now easier to obtain in Hampshire villages than cannabis.

'People come from Andover and Salisbury to the villages to score because of the policing in towns,' Eric says.

'We only used to deal to people we knew, but now the dealers don't give a shit and sell to anyone regardless of age.'

Eric and Sylv, who are looking forward to the arrival of their first grandchild, abide by their own code of ethics on drugtaking. While they would allow their four children to smoke cannabis or take 'acid' (LSD) in front of them, they draw the line at heroin. Both were appalled recently to learn that their teenage son had been secretly sniffing lighter fuel.

Rolf Gerstad, an outreach worker with the Powys Drugs Line in North Wales, believes many youngsters are turning to drugs from alcohol.

'Magic mushrooms are very big in this area as is cannabis, acid and speed,' he says. 'There is a hell of a lot of unemployment and rural deprivation in this area and it's worth remembering that these drugs help people pass the time.'

Latest figures released by the Home Office (for 1992) point to an increase in the number of notified addicts, seizures and offenders in police forces with largely rural areas. Notified addicts in Hampshire rose from 286 to 480, Avon and Somerset from 382 to 531, Devon and Cornwall from 358 to 490, and Cheshire from 430 to 558.

Seizures of controlled drugs rose in Devon and Cornwall from 958 in 1991 to 1,395 in 1992, in Wiltshire from 521 to 914 and Avon and Somerset from 1,529 to 1,782.

The CDSA, squeezed into the attic of a former Victorian workhouse-turned-hospital in Winchester, helps people tackle the root problems which lead to their addiction.

Job retraining is encouraged to help drug abusers feel they are regaining control of their lives. But with the prospect of poorly paid work or long-term unemployment on the horizon, it is difficult to stop some from becoming demoralised.

'People want to know what's in it for them at the end if they embark on a withdrawal programme,' says Mr Edwards.

The decreasing age of its new referrals is also alarming the CDSA.

'Ten years ago the average age was 25 to 30, but now they tend to be 10 years younger,' says Derek Harper. His youngest client is 14.

GPs in rural areas are now waking up to the problem of drug abuse and a few practices are working in partnership with drug agencies. Many pharmacacies have introduced needle-exchange schemes, but Eric believes making free needles available will add to an increase in drug abuse.

'Getting guns (needles) across the counter is good in one respect but bad in another because it gives people the opportunity to inject the drug who would otherwise just smoke it occasionally,' he says.

Unlike Gary and Anne, Sylv and Eric plan to stay on in their village with their four children despite knowing they are not welcome by some. 'I'm not allowed into the corner shop or the local pub anymore,' Eric laughs. 'No one wants my money here. The only place left for me to spend it now is in the phone box.'

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice