Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Yr wythnos hon, gwnaeth Cymdeithas Feddygol Prydain ei datganiad cliriaf a’r un fwyaf amserol hyd yn hyn ar fater argyfwng alcoholiaeth ym Mhrydain: "Yn yr hinsawdd economaidd bresennol, ni allwn fforddio parhau i wario miloedd ar filoedd o bunnau ar glirio ôl-effeithiau problem alcohol y dylai’r llywodraeth ddelio â hi gyda mwy o bwyslais ar fesurau ataliol." Mewn ffaith, mae’r pwysau y mae alcoholiaeth mas yn ei roi ar y GIG yn anghynaladwy ac mae’n gwthio ein hysbytai i dorbwynt ac mae’r sefydliad meddygol yn gwybod hyn yn dda. Mae’r llywodraeth yn gwybod hynny hefyd, fel y diwydiant alcohol - y mwyaf pwerus o’r ddwy lobi a’r un yr oedd y llywodraeth yn dewis ei gefnogi. Yr wythnos hon, roedd y BMA yn galw unwaith eto am leiafswm pris ar alcohol, strategaeth a brofwyd fel un i ostwng y nifer o gleifion cysylltiedig ag alcohol sy’n cael eu derbyn i ysbytai yn yr Alban ac ‘yn ymosod ar arferion marchnata anghyfrifol’. (Pan ystyrir bod alcohol, fel arfer, ar frig y mynegai sy’n achosi fwyaf o niwed, yn achosi miliwn o ymosodiadau bob blwyddyn, yn gysylltiedig â’r mwyafrif o achosion o gam-drin ac esgeuluso plant ac sy’n gweld pumed ran o bedwar deg rywbeth yn cael eu derbyn i wardiau argyfwng bob blwyddyn, nid yw’n rhy ddadleuol i awgrymu bod yr holl arferion marchnata’n anghyfrifol). Y rheswm dros bryder y BMA oedd yr ystadegau brawychus a ryddhawyd ac a oedd yn dangos epidemig o ddibyniaeth mewn pobl rhwng 40-50 oed; mae yfwyr pyliau’n rhoi baich o ryw £22 miliwn y flwyddyn ar y GIG ond mae yfwyr cartref yn eu 40au yn mynychu ysbytai mor aml fel eu bod yn draenio £670 miliwn o’r coffrau cyhoeddus. Mae meddwl am bethau yn nhermau ariannol, wrth gwrs, yn ddadlennol ac mae’n ddefnyddiol wrth roi awgrym i ni o raddfa’r broblem (un sy’n 30 gwaith y maint) ond ni ddylem adael i’r gost hon ein pellhau oddi wrth y bobl hynny ynghanol y drasiedi hon. Mae canran fwyaf dioddefwyr y diwydiant alcohol yn dlawd, bron i 40 y cant o deuluoedd incwm isel ac mae’r mwyafrif yn ymddangos fel yfwyr cartref, sy’n gallu mwynhau eu dibyniaeth i ffwrdd oddi wrth heriau sefyllfaoedd cymdeithasol. Yn y cyfnod hwn o lymder, pan mae nawdd i lyfrgelloedd, canolfannau chwaraeon a bysiau’n cael eu torri, yn rhyfedd iawn, mae’r diwydiant alcohol fel petai’n cael ei eithrio o fesurau tynhau o’r fath ac mae ganddo un system ariannu anferth gan y trethdalwyr i gynorthwyo ei waith; y GIG. Mae’r mwyafrif o fusnesau sy’n creu cynnyrch gwastraff niweidiol er mwyn elw neu sy’n llygru, yn gorfod glanhau’r llanastr neu’n gorfod talu’r trethi gwyrdd i dalu am eu heffaith ar yr amgylchedd, ond nid y diwydiant alcohol. Cost y gollyngiad olew Deepwater Horizon oedd 11 bywyd a thua $50bn i BP. Pa bris y miloedd o fywydau sy’n cael eu colli bob blwyddyn ym Mhrydain oherwydd cam-drin alcohol? Mae’r diwydiant alcohol yn preifateiddio’r elw o’u gweithgareddau ac yn cymdeithasu’r gost i’r gweddill ohonom ei thalu, yn ariannol ac yn ysbrydol. Petai’r diwydiant alcohol yn gorfod talu ei ffordd am unwaith a chyfrannu at y niwed mae’n ei achosi, byddai’n methu - mae hyn yn arwydd bod costau alcohol yn llawer mwy na’r budd a geir i fusnesau preifat neu i gymdeithas.

Monday, 9 December 2013


This week the British Medical Association made its clearest and most timely statement to date on the issue of Britain's alcoholism crisis: "We cannot afford to keep spending millions of pounds in today's economic climate on mopping up the after-effects of an alcohol problem that the government should tackle with a greater emphasis on preventive measures." In essence, the burden that mass alcoholism is placing on the NHS is unsustainable and is pushing our hospitals to breaking point and the medical establishment knows this full well. The government knows it too, as does the alcohol industry - the more powerful of the two lobbies and the one the government chose to back. This week the BMA called once again for minimum pricing on alcohol, a strategy proven to reduce alcohol related hospital admissions in Scotland and a 'crackdown on irresponsible marketing practices' (when one considers that alcohol is normally at the top of most harm indices, causes a million assaults per year, is connected to most cases of child abuse and neglect and sees a fifth of forty somethings admitted to the emergency wards annually, it's not too controversial to suggest that all marketing practices are irresponsible). The reason for the BMA's concern were the shocking statistics released that show an addiction epidemic amongst 40-50 year olds; town centre binge drinkers place a burden of some £22 million a year on the NHS, but home drinkers in their 40's attend hospital so frequently that they drain £670 million from the public coffers. Thinking about things in financial terms is of course revealing and it is useful in giving us a clue to the scale of the problem (one that is 30 times the size), but we should not let these costings distance us from the human beings at the centre of this tragedy. The largest percentile of victims of the alcohol industry are poor, nearly 40 percent come from low income brackets and most appear to be home drinkers, able to engage in their addiction away from the challenges of social situations. In this time of austerity, when public subsidies for libraries, sports centres and buses are being cut, the alcohol industry curiously seems to be exempt from such belt tightening measures and still has one enormous tax-payer funded system to assist its operations; the NHS. Most businesses that generate harmful waste products in the pursuit of profit or who pollute are legally obliged to clean up their messes or are levied green taxes to pay for their impact on the environment, not the drinks industry though. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill cost 11 lives and about $50bn for BP. What price the thousands of lives lost each year in Britain to alcohol abuse? The alcohol industry privatises the profits from their activities and socialises the costs for the rest of us to pay, financially and spiritually. If the alcohol industry were ever forced to pay its way and to contribute to paying for the damage it caused it would collapse, an indication that the costs of alcohol far outweigh the benefits accrued to private business or society. Wynford Ellis Owen CEO Living Room Cardiff

Friday, 22 November 2013

We're all perfectly imperfect

Last week the global news media was fixated with the story of Brian Jones, a bus driver from Solihull who was dismissed from his job after it was revealed he had taken crack cocaine, was drunk at the wheel and clearly had sex addiction issues due to his frequent use of prostitutes. At the same time an obscure bank clerk from Reading, Mrs Andrea Smith, revealed that she had bought cocaine and enjoyed a weekend bender in Manchester. Except it wasn’t. These two fictional stories are composites of real ones, stories of ordinary men and women whose lives are wrecked by addiction, day in day out. The narrative of fall from grace, disgrace and public shaming is too commonplace, too mundane, too familiar and everyday for the newspapers, TV and internet to bother publicising, except when a high profile politician or public figure is involved. The Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, has given the media some wonderful material to work with, appearing at once to be both a buffoon and psychopath and even worse, publicly funded but, in many ways, the story of his British counterpart Paul Flowers is even more perfect for the tabloid press. Mr. Flowers, former Chairman of the Cooperative Bank, has had to resign and face police investigation after it was revealed that during his tenure at the loss making bank he was purchasing cocaine and other substances. He was not only a Methodist Minister, but the trustee of a drugs charity, and in the eyes of our ever judgmental media (who are, as a profession beyond reproach in matters of substance abuse of course), a cardinal sin has been committed. Mr. Flowers was no doubt meant to occupy some saintly position, untainted by addiction, the title of minister conferred unto him seems also to have come with the presumption by everyone else of infallibility. The suggestion is also implicit from news reports that have circulated about his fall from grace that the Cooperative Bank would be operating at a profit were it not for his nefarious vices. Maybe it would, it’s almost impossible to say for sure, but the reason for this letter is not so much about either Ford or Flowers, but our collective response of surprise and shock when we learn that the rich and powerful are out of control. When we see other lives out of control such as city centre street drinkers, most of us barely register their presence, but they are every bit as human and in distress as the damaged people who all too often have access to the levers of power. It is understandably difficult to extend our human compassion and understanding to the most vulnerable and damaged victims of addiction who we encounter on a day to day basis, but equally it becomes increasingly challenging to show compassion to high profile victims too. Despite their disagreeable antics in high office, both men Ford and Flowers are as human, as flawed, as likely to feel sorrow and loneliness as the rest of us; both men are very ill with addiction and completely lost, having to make sense of a whirlwind of chaos in the full glare of the media spotlight. We have come to assume that our leaders are less human than us, that these wizards of public affairs, finance and administration can work some special kind of magic that we mortals are not privy to, and our societies will continue to function in a generally normal and secure way. What these two examples suggest is that within the corridors of political, financial and bureaucratic power, there are probably as many damaged, addicted, frightened and lonely people as there are within the population at large. We therefore need more than ever to have a frank and honest open discussion about addiction in our society, one that transcends our tabloids, taboos, secrets and shame.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Dawn Berry

Come Dine with me is a programme ostensibly about modern manners and the nation’s eating and entertaining habits, but as with all reality TV, it is unscripted, relies on real people as opposed to actors in order to entertain the public and takes place in people’s homes. The show is enormously popular and has reached the level of cult viewing, largely because it’s researchers pick entertaining characters with forthright views, occasionally boorish tendencies and an eccentric take on what it means to be a host. One of the contestants, Dawn Barry, was voted the best ever contestant of the show because of her erratic behaviour; Dawn killed herself last week aged 38, following a long battle with alcoholism, an addiction that was on display for the world to see on prime time TV. What was it about Dawn that elicited such affection or approval from the audience of Come Dine With Me? When she appeared on the show, she passed out at her own dinner party, went to bed and left the guests to make the food themselves, behaviour that obviously seems to have been entertaining to viewers who were unaware of her illness. Dawn had been desperate to become famous and well known, she had appeared on ITV’s Blind Date and a reality TV show about club reps and appearing on Come Dine With me finally secured recognition in the public eye. What of the production company ITV Studios? They have made over 1,200 editions of the programme and surely are not inexperienced when dealing with the general public and their various needs and problems. The viewing public may not have been aware that Dawn’s erratic behaviour was the result of her drinking, but it would have been virtually impossible for the production company not to have been aware. Was the opportunity to make ‘good TV’ just too alluring? If so then ITV Studios have some soul searching to do. Dawn Barry’s life was not something for bored daytime TV watchers to gawp at, she was a desperately sad and lonely person who had experienced, courtesy of alcohol, drink drive bans and domestic violence. Last week she showed the world that the pain of addiction was too much to bear and she joined the 40,000 people who will die this year from drinking. Most of the time, alcoholics are invisible, they are an either embarrassment or they force the rest of society to confront some awkward questions, and when they aren’t invisible they are either celebrated as folk heroes like George Best or thanked for giving the rest of us a good laugh, like Dawn Barry. Dawn appeared on ‘reality’ TV, but almost no one saw the reality of her life at all, and if there was even a shred of courageous and pioneering TV that focused on addiction in the UK, people who suffer from the illness might become real and understood, not clownish caricatures who’s actual tears are shed away from the camera.
CAIS and Living Room Cardiff embark on new phase in their development 8th October 2013 CAIS and Living Room Cardiff embark on new phase in their development Following a meeting of its trustees, Living Room Cardiff, the major community-based recovery centre for Cardiff and south Wales, has agreed to merge with north Wales-based CAIS Drug and Rehabilitation North Wales and Powys to create one of Wales’ largest addiction therapy providers. Living Room Cardiff, which was first established in 2011, will become a part of the CAIS charity and will remain at its Cardiff location under the stewardship of its Chief Executive, Wynford Ellis Owen. CAIS is a registered charity and leading voluntary sector provider of personal support services in Wales. It helps people who are having problems with addictions, mental health, personal development and employment - as well as offering assistance and information to their families and friends. Its wide range of services includes residential treatment and rehabilitation, counselling, peer mentoring, supporting people in their homes, assisting people back into work or education, group work and other motivational interventions. The Living Room Cardiff has an ‘all addictions’ approach and welcomes anyone who needs support in taking that first step towards recovery or wanting to maintain their on- going recovery. The Living Room Cardiff also welcomes and provides advice and support for family members, partners and friends of people who have been affected by these addictions. Clive Wolfendale, CAIS Chief Executive said, “We are delighted to be working with the Living Room under this merger agreement. We share a very similar vision and ethos. Most of all, I believe together we can bring real energy and creativity to the cause of rehabilitation in Wales.” Wynford Ellis Owen, added, “This is an exciting day for the Living Room Cardiff. It provides us with a solid platform to move forward and deliver our groundbreaking approach to recovery treatment, but also by joining forces with CAIS we can both work together, each with its own remit, to tackle the growing problem of addiction on an all-Wales basis for the first time. “The new structure enables us to build on our successes over the past few years and help even more people to recover from addiction and rebuild normal, productive lifestyles, in the belief that people can and do change.” ENDS For further information please contact Rhodri Ellis Owen at Cambrensis Communications on 029 20 257075 or 8 Hydref 2013 CAIS a Stafell Fyw Caerdydd yn cychwyn ar gyfnod newydd yn eu datblygiad Yn dilyn cyfarfod o’i ymddiriedolwyr, mae Stafell Fyw Caerdydd, y ganolfan adferiad gymunedol ar gyfer Caerdydd a De Cymru, wedi cytuno i gyfuno gyda CAIS y mudiad cyffuriau ac adferiad yng Ngogledd Cymru a Phowys i greu un o ddarparwyr therapi mwyaf ar gyfer dibyniaeth yng Nghymru. Bydd Stafell Fyw Caerdydd, a gafodd ei sefydlu yn 2011, yn dod yn rhan o’r elusen CAIS a bydd yn parhau yn ei leoliad bresennol yng Nghaerdydd o dan arweiniad ei brif weithredwr, Wynford Ellis Owen. Mae CAIS yn elusen gofrestredig ac yn arwain yn y maes o ddarparu gwasanaethau cymorth personol yng Nghymru. Mae’n helpu pobl sy’n cael problemau gyda dibyniaeth, iechyd meddwl, datblygiad personol a gwaith – yn ogystal â chynnig cymorth a gwybodaeth i’w teuluoedd a’u ffrindiau. Mae ei ystod eang o wasanaethau yn cynnwys triniaethau preswyl, cynghori, mentora gan gyfoedion, cefnogi pobl yn eu cartrefi, helpu pobl ddychwelyd i fyd gwaith neu addysg, gwaith grŵp, ynghyd â mathau eraill o annogaeth cefnogol personol. Mae Stafell Fyw Caerdydd yn trin â phob math o ddibyniaeth ac yn croesawu unrhyw un sydd angen cymorth naill ai i gymryd y cam cyntaf tuag at adferiad neu sydd eisiau help i gynnal eu hadferiad. Mae Stafell Fyw Caerdydd hefyd yn croesawu ac yn cynnig cyngor a chefnogaeth i deulu, partneriaid a ffrindiau pobl sy’n dioddef o ddibyniaeth. Dywedodd Clive Wolfendale, Prif Weithredwr CAIS, “Rydyn yn hynod o falch i gyd-weithio gyda Stafell Fyw Caerdydd ar y cytundeb cyfuno hwn. Rydyn yn rhannu gweledigaeth ac ethos tebyg iawn. Yn fwy pwysig fyth, rwy’n credu y gallwn, gyda’n gilydd, ddod ag egni a chreadigrwydd gwirioneddol i achos adferiad yng Nghymru.” Ychwanegodd Wynford Ellis Owen, “ Mae’n ddiwrnod cyffrous i Stafell Fyw Caerdydd. Mae’n rhoi sylfaen gref i ni i symud ymlaen i ddarparu ein harddull torri tir newydd ni o drin adferiad. Hefyd drwy gyfuno gyda CAIS gallwn gydweithio, gyda’n gorchwylion ein hunain, i fynd i’r afael â’r broblem gynhyddol o ddibyniaeth am y tro cyntaf ar draws Cymru yn ei chyfanrwydd. “Mae’r strwythur newydd yn ein galluogi i adeiladu ar ein llwyddiannau dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf ac yn helpu hyd yn oed mwy o bobl i adfer o ddibyniaeth ac ail-adeiladu bywydau normal a chynhyrchiol, yn y gred fod pobl yn gallu ac yn llwyddo i newid.” DIWEDD Am wybodaeth bellach cysylltwch â Rhodri Ellis Owen yn Cambrensis Cyf ar 029 20 257075 neu

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Paying the social and emotional price

As crude and grotesque displays go, one has to search far and wide to find a more blatant example than the recent rise of the pop starlet Miley Cyrus. The former Disney favourite has reinvented herself as a hyper sexualised and sexually available young woman and has done so at the expense of young women everywhere and modern culture at large. The purpose of this letter is not to tut at pop music or to enact a prudish or puritanical stance, sex and the popular song have been closely related since Ivor Novello penned his first tunes here in Cardiff a century ago. The reason why the Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs takes a position on this is because the wider culture that generates such banality is also responsible for immense emotional harm and dysfunction. It has long been understood that the simplistic notions of how people interact with role models that were dreamt up decades ago no longer apply, young people don’t simply absorb and directly emulate the actions of role models, it is in fact far more complex. When we see images of those who society and the media have validated by declaring them famous or celebrities we unconsciously take on the values that they seem to represent and of course for most of us the ‘ideals’ they represent are largely unobtainable. For those that can live up to what they are presented with a different problem exists, which is that of adopting the artifice (a tricky enough job for the celebrity, Norma Jean Baker, AKA Marilyn Monroe would frequently refer to the persona of Marilyn as ‘her’). We, as a society, encourage through subtle, silent and unconscious cues our young people to be something they are not. Our TV, internet and advertising creates a constant sense of lack, a constant sense of not-good-enough, and the reach of these messages increases year on year. When young people do act out these hyper sexualised roles they inevitably pay some social or emotional price, but the biggest of all is an alienation from self. So little is done in our society to encourage young people to develop and authentic and positive sense of who they are that pretense eventually becomes an accepted default setting and the burden of holding up this make believe for many becomes unbearable, resulting in the retreat to drugs, drink and other dysfunctional behaviours to numb the hurt. The fame of a few is bought at the price of the loneliness and confusion of the many and we as a society must try to engage in a meaningful discussion about how we engage our young in an exploration and appreciation of themselves, not the animated adverts for dysfunction they see on the screen.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

"Informed" decision making....

In the 1980s prior to the advent of Aids as a phenomenon, drugs became the moral panic of the decade, and, prior to the advent of the child molester, the drug dealer was the number one figure of fear and revulsion for polite society. Soap operas, documentaries and even Grange Hill featured this nihilistic pied piper, luring children and teenagers away to a life on the streets, enslaved to heroin forever. As with all moral panics, the fear over drugs was fuelled by the newspapers that searched for ever more lurid accounts of miss-spent youth, and as with all moral panics, it backfired spectacularly. Drug use continued to increase throughout the 80's, 90's and 2000's until we reached the addiction crisis we are familiar with now, but what is less well known was the progressive nationalisation of drug dealing that has occurred over that period. The biggest dispenser of opiates in the country, our very own bureaucratic Pablo Escobar, is, of course, the government, who this week ring fenced the funding for methadone, ensuring that the cycle of addiction will continue unbroken. It is an individual and social disaster, born of a toxic mix of political hubris and the imposition of medical doctrine on what is a spiritual and existential crisis. When Russell Brand, an advocate for abstinence based recovery, in his recent excellent documentary on addiction challenged a senior NHS official over the prescription of methadone, the response was revealing. The clinician told Brand that it was often better to keep an individual medicated with the watered down heroin substitute for long periods of time whilst their emotional pain was addressed, rather than risk the argument dried up? What is it the NHS is so afraid of? What might a drug addict, deprived of methadone, a drug, actually do? At the Living Room Cardiff we see former heroin addicts consistently battle to get away from methadone so they can be free of drugs and finally engage with and resolve their pain, free from the fog of addiction at last. Nothing can be achieved by keeping addicts addicted, there is no doubt that the intentions of doctors and specialists are benign and well intentioned, but they are based in an ignorance that is integral to the medical model of recovery. In any normal medical situation, diabetes or a broken wrist, a specialist with expert knowledge steps in and marginalises the patient’s involvement, carrying out the necessary procedure in as short a time as possible. When it comes to addiction, the 'patient' is the expert, an alcoholic or heroin addict knows more about addiction than a doctor (if he isn't an addict himself) ever will, so the entire process of prescribing a substance like methadone which will supposedly 'help' an addict becomes farcical. All it will do is lock the addict in the cycle of addiction permanently, and most heroin addicts supplement their methadone prescription with, yes, you guessed it, heroin. This means that the government's ill-informed and misguided approach to drugs actually helps fuel the black market in heroin by keeping it stocked with customers. By failing to listen to the real experts, dismissing them with a high handed elitism, the problem continues to grow and lives continue to be sacrificed. We spend nearly half a percent of our entire gross national product on drugs policy, the highest in Europe, with utterly dismal results, simply listening to addicts in recovery and understanding the truth about addiction would be a lot cheaper.

Monday, 2 September 2013

'We are the most addicted society in Europe' (Centre for Social Justice)

Addiction as a mass phenomenon has been with us for several decades, perhaps from the late 1960s onwards, reaching the current epidemic levels it has mushroomed into today. Previously, people not only lacked the means to drink as much as they do now (in a world of ever rising prices, alcohol and other drugs continue to buck the trend, drink is now cheaper in real terms than it has ever been), but if it were simply a matter of affordability, there would be no such thing as the homeless addict. Rapid changes in our society have made us more affluent, but have exposed us to perpetual round the clock advertising and marketing, selling us innumerable fantasies and dreams, reminding us on a daily basis in often subtle and invisible ways that we lack something, miss something, need something more. Often the structures of community and spiritual life that once gave meaning to existence beyond hedonism have crumbled away, but have not been replaced by anything that nurtures the individual and connects him or her to others. A banal and egocentric self-centred-ness has been elevated by television and political discourse to be a virtue, not a flaw and the results of this toxic brew have been revealed by a government think tank this week. We are the most addicted society in Europe, be it in legal highs, street drugs or alcohol (the research doesn't mention gambling, but this government and the last have both made creating gambling addicts for the bookies to exploit a special priority) according to the Centre for Social Justice, which estimates that addiction costs Britain £36 billion a year. These stark figures would tend to suggest to anyone with a modicum of intelligence that the government's drug policy has failed completely, but the official wisdom on how to treat addiction remains unchanged. Light touch regulation which allows the drinks trade to behave as it sees fit, combined with the criminalisation of other drugs to make millionaires out of a huge criminal class that recycles the money to finance every other kind of organised crime, allows the supply of addictive substances to flourish every year. At the other end of the addiction cycle, the government still insists on imposing a medical model of addiction on the growing numbers of addicts, where they are ministered unto by professionals who have no direct experience of addiction themselves. It is these experts who argue that a harm reduction approach, advising alcoholics to just try to have a few drinks instead of two bottles of vodka, is best. The only solution to alcoholism or any drug addiction is abstinence based recovery, one day at a time abstaining from intoxicating substances and working with other recoverers to build a new life from the ashes of the old. The Living Room Cardiff practices an abstinence based approach to recovery and it is a philosophy that needs to be adopted with more urgency now than ever before. Our society with all its constant demands on individuals to be smarter, funnier, better looking, richer, more successful and popular is an addict making machine, we have developed the settings on this machine to create a perpetual and ambient insanity that punishes children as they grow into adults for the crime of being who they are. This hurt is medicated in a myriad of different dysfunctional ways, leaving broken individuals, homes, families and communities. Not only is a different way of treating addicts needed, but a different language in society required in assessing the validity and worth of individuals.

Friday, 16 August 2013

A quarter of a million pounds.

Who authorised the investment of £250,000 of public money in the recently closed Westgate Street bar Fire Island? What was the rationale behind this decision? These questions need to be urgently answered by the National Assembly's investment body Finance Wales. The debt investment made in Fire Island was, even from a casual bystander's point of view, a high risk strategy. Why, in a town centre awash with bars, pubs and cut price alcohol deals, was it seen as a economically sound to invest tax payers money in another bar? No one celebrates or cheers when a business fails, jobs, dreams and ambitions are swept away by cruel economic realities and the owners of Fire Island and their other two businesses, The Buffalo Bar and Ten Feet Tall have no doubt shed many tears through these difficult times, and we must be sympathetic and caring. That said, it would appear that a collective madness has operated during this particular episode of questionable public expenditure and it is worth taking a moment to explore what these spending priorities really tell us about the Welsh Assembly Government. Public investment in private businesses is nothing new and if managed correctly can see communities regenerated and new industries flourish, but neither of those outcomes were likely here, at best a bar is likely to produce a handful of minimum wage bar and catering jobs. The lack of immediate economic benefit is only the tip of the iceberg, however, the actual costs that investing yet further in the alcohol industry incurs are ones that we as a society can ill afford and yet seem to be largely blind to. Firstly there is the opportunity cost of every pound spent on alcohol. Drinking could be described as an economic 'bad', the negative consequences of an individual investing in alcohol outweigh any productive benefit to the wider economy. For every pound spent on alcohol by the individual, society has to match it with hundreds of pounds spent of policing, health care, unemployment benefits, social services, the court systems and more. The drinks industry privatises huge profits and socialises even bigger costs, so when a government lends money to facilitate this process it can be said to be involved in a conspiracy against the general public. Finance Wales' investment also demonstrates a staggering failure of imagination. No doubt the organisation invests in all manner of businesses across Wales, but the decision to pour money into yet another bar in Cardiff's city centre, already a no go area on a Saturday night for many people due to drunken violence, infers to the casual onlooker the idea that central Cardiff can't be, or do, or produce anything else. If this is the extent of our economic thinking about the country's capital city, Wales is in dire trouble, can it be that the epicentre of the industrial revolution, a city of coal, ships, steelworks, factories and engineers can't dream up something more productive? Finally, there is a cost that is felt keenly by the volunteers and service users at the Living Room Cardiff, which, like all charities devoted to undoing the harm caused by the alcohol industry, has faced a struggle for its financial future over the last few years. A quarter of a million pounds would finance the Living Room for two and a half years and this in turn would add more to the Welsh economy than a new town centre bar. The Living Room regularly sees people return to work after years in addiction, it sees addicts forced into crime become law abiding and productive citizens, it sees people who have neglected their duties at work due to addiction become model employees and takes the strain off the NHS's A&E Departments on a Saturday night. In short, the Welsh Assembly Government should be investing in recovery for the long term, not in promoting yet more drinking by subsidising an already bloated alcohol industry in Wales.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A high street weapon of mass destruction

A high street weapon of mass destruction. That the country is in the grip of an epidemic of alcoholism has long been understood by most health professionals. Almost every index relating to drinking show a steep rise in consumption and an equivalent rise in alcohol related illnesses, violence and death. The one million assaults in the UK every year and the involvement of alcohol as an aggravating factor in most recorded cases of child abuse are such large statistical abstractions that it makes it difficult for the mind to take in the scale of the carnage caused by Britain's soft touch approach to this drug. A particular court case this week however, might help to focus the thoughts as it involves a crime of horrendous and senseless violence, one fuelled by alcohol, but one where alcohol's involvement was at no point questioned challenged or condemned. Carl Mills yesterday began a life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years for murder after deliberately setting fire to a house, killing his estranged girlfriend Kayleigh Buckley along with their daughter Kimberley and her mother Kim. His relationship with alcohol was well documented, Torfaen social services were concerned about his heavy drinking, but little more was said about it than that. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "Carl Mills was responsible for starting a devastating fire that had distressing and tragic consequences. He did so knowing full well who was in the house at the time – and the evidence of his jealous and controlling nature makes it all too clear what his intentions were." That he was completely responsible for the crime and a cruel and sadistic man is beyond doubt, but the other silent accomplice, the alcohol industry yesterday slunk away largely unnoticed, its involvement in the crime going unquestioned in court and in all other arenas of public debate; the media and the government said nothing about the role of alcohol in the crime, even though social services reports had strongly hinted towards it being a key factor in Mills' violence. British society operates in many ways like a family riven with dysfunction caused by addiction, in both instances everyone secretly knows the truth, but the unspoken rules that are all pervading prohibit all of us from speaking it. If we explore some statistics and focus on some uncomfortable truths, however, we may be able to break this toxic silence. Alcohol, globally, is a weapon of mass destruction. How can we say this with any conviction? Landmines, costing anything between $3 and $10 to buy and now some 120 million in number, kill, worldwide some 800 people per month, the majority of whom are children and almost all of whom are poor. Alcohol kills just under 210,000 worldwide per month according to the World Health Organisation, some staggering 2.5 million people per year (when next year we take stock of the millions killed from 1914-1918, it might be interesting to revisit this statistic and contextualise it, a different kind of carnage for our time but no less deadly). Another way of thinking about it is this: alcohol will kill, in the next twelve months, roughly 25 times as many people as the conflict in Syria has currently claimed. It will kill, in the next decade, roughly as many Russians as were lost in the Second World War, and in the next year kill six times as many people as the Ethiopian famine in 1984. All the dictators we revile, the famines that shock us when we watch the Six O'clock News, all the tsunamis and earthquakes and civil wars that cut a bloody swathe through mankind, all of these have a tough time competing with alcohol for sheer destructive power. Britain, mercifully, has none of the above horrors to contend with, but it does have one of the most acute alcohol problems in the developed world. With this in mind the decision this week, the same week that Mills was convicted, by Prime Minister David Cameron to backtrack from minimum pricing legislation was one of the greatest abandonments of the British public to the interests of private profit in modern political history. Peer reviewed and evidence led research has clearly demonstrated in a number of cases that the level of injury, illness and premature deaths fell with even modest increases in minimum pricing, indicating that poor, vulnerable drinkers already drinking excessively were unable to consume the levels of drink that they had previously been able to. The various faux-libertarian arguments that have sprung forth over this issue repeatedly emphasise that the government has no right to rob the working man of what little pleasure he has in life, i.e. a cheap drink, and that good sensible drinkers should not have to be penalised because of a handful of bad apples. Firstly, as an addictive substance that is catastrophically damaging to the social fabric of the nation, is linked to a million assaults in the UK each year and costs the taxpayer annually some £12 billion, alcohol absolutely should be the subject of strict pricing, all other measures to limit its consumption have failed, including farcical attempts to involve the industry in 'self-regulation'. Secondly, if the drinkers who feel persecuted by the threat of a marginally more expensive pint of beer or glass of wine haven't got problems with alcohol, what actually is the problem? A few pence on the price of a drink is surely a small price to pay to curb the death-toll caused by drinking. The objections, no doubt, come primarily from the alcohol industry itself and from powerful and invisible lobbyists who have access to the Prime Minister and the rest of the political class (a U-turn this week on plain cigarette packaging and the convenient presence of tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby in the PM's inner circle gives us a clue as to how the rest of the government's 'health' policy works). It was perhaps too much to hope that our government, hopelessly in thrall to private concerns, was going to take a brave, necessary and potentially unpopular stand on alcohol and show real leadership. The game of modern politics may once have been about making harsh, necessary decisions (Cameron and Osborne seem adept at doing this when it comes to slashing state spending) but now it is far more a struggle for popularity over policy. Every time there is a car crash, a stabbing, a mugging or a rape, or every time a family of three is murdered in their beds by a young man sick with the disease of alcoholism and with endless cheap booze to feed it, think of the Prime Minister. Think of him and of an entirely superficial, glib and unconvincing political class, owned by big business concerns whose only interest is in privatising the proceeds of their weapon of mass destruction, and socialising the costs to the rest of us.

Arf stryd fawr o ddistryw mawr

Mae mwyafrif y gweithwyr proffesiynol iechyd wedi deall ers amser y ffaith bod y wlad wedi bod yng ngafael epidemig o alcoholiaeth. Mae bron pob mynegai sy’n ymwneud ag yfed yn dangos cynnydd mawr mewn yfed a chynnydd cyfatebol mewn salwch, trais a marwolaeth yn ymwneud ag alcohol. Mae’r miliwn o ymosodiadau yn y DU bob blwyddyn a’r ffaith bod alcohol yn ffactor yn y mwyafrif o’r achosion a gofnodwyd o gam-drin plant yn ystadegau mor fawr fel ei bod yn ei gwneud hi’n anodd i’r meddwl amgyffred graddfa’r drychineb a achosir gan agwedd cyffyrddiad ysgafn Prydain at y cyffur hwn. Mae’n bosibl, fodd bynnag, y bydd achos llys yr wythnos hon yn helpu i ganolbwyntio meddyliau gan ei fod yn ymwneud â throsedd o drais dychrynllyd a disynnwyr ond yn un lle na chafodd perthynas alcohol ar unrhyw adeg ei gwestiynu, ei herio na’i gondemnio. Ddoe, dechreuodd Carl Mills ar ddedfryd o garchar am oes gyda lleiafswm o 30 mlynedd am lofruddio ar ôl cynnau tân mewn tŷ’n fwriadol, gan ladd ei gyn gariad Kayleigh Buckley, eu merch Kimberley a’i mam Kim. Roedd cofnodion clir am ei berthynas gydag alcohol, roedd gwasanaethau cymdeithasol Torfaen yn bryderus am ei arfer o yfed yn drwm ond ni ddywedwyd llawer mwy na hynny. Dywedodd llefarydd ar ran Gwasanaeth Erlyn y Goron: "Roedd Carl Mills yn gyfrifol am ddechrau tân dychrynllyd oedd â chanlyniadau trallodus a thrasig. Gwnaeth hynny gan wybod yn iawn pwy oedd yn y tŷ ar y pryd - ac mae tystiolaeth o’i natur genfigennus a chynllwyngar yn gwneud ei fwriadau’n llawer rhy glir. " Roedd y ffaith ei fod yn gwbl gyfrifol am y drosedd ac yn ddyn creulon a sadistaidd yn ddiamheuol ond roedd y cyd-droseddwr tawel arall, y diwydiant alcohol yn dianc i bob pwrpas yn ddisylw. Ni chwestiynwyd rhan yr alcohol yn y drosedd yn y llys nac yn unrhyw faes arall o drafodaeth gyhoeddus; ni ddywedodd y cyfryngau na’r llywodraeth unrhyw beth am rôl alcohol yn y drosedd er bod adroddiadau’r gwasanaethau cymdeithasol wedi awgrymu’n gryf bod hwn yn ffactor pwysig yn natur dreisgar Mills. Mae cymdeithas Brydeinig yn gweithredu mewn sawl ffordd fel teulu sy’n cael ei yrru gan gamweithredu o ganlyniad i ddibyniaeth, yn y ddau achos mae pawb yn gwybod y gwir, ond mae’r rheolau nad sy’n cael eu llefaru ond sy’n drwch yn ein cymdeithas, yn ein hatal ni i gyd rhag siarad amdano. Os byddwn yn ymchwilio i rai ystadegau ac yn canolbwyntio ar rai gwirioneddau anghyfforddus, fodd bynnag, mae’n bosibl y gallwn dorri ar y tawelwch gwenwynig hwn. Yn fyd-eang, mae alcohol yn arf o ddistryw mawr. Sut gallwn ni ddweud hyn gydag argyhoeddiad? Mae ffrwydron tir, sy’n costio unrhyw beth rhwng $3 a $10 i’w prynu ac yn awr tua 120 miliwn mewn nifer, yn lladd tua 800 o bobl y mis dros y byd i gyd, y mwyafrif yn blant a bron bob un o’r rhain yn dlawd. Mae alcohol yn lladd ychydig llai na 210,000 dros y byd i gyd bob mis yn ôl Sefydliad Iechyd y Byd, rhyw 2.5 miliwn o bobl y flwyddyn (pan fyddwn ni'r flwyddyn nesaf yn cyfrif y miliynau a laddwyd o 1914-1918, mae’n bosibl y bydd yn ddiddorol ail ymweld â’r ystadegyn hwn a’i roi yn ei gyd-destun, lladdfa wahanol i’n hamser ni ond nid yn llai angheuol). Ffordd arall o feddwl am hyn yw: bydd alcohol yn lladd, yn ystod y deuddeg mis nesaf, tua 25 gwaith cynifer o bobl ag y mae’r gwrthdaro yn Syria wedi’i wneud. Bydd yn lladd, yn ystod y degawd nesaf, tua chynifer o Rwsiaid ag a gollwyd yn yr Ail Ryfel Byd ac yn y flwyddyn nesaf, chwe gwaith cynifer o bobl â’r newyn yn Ethiopia ym 1984. Rydyn ni’n gwaredu at yr holl unbeniaid, y newyn sy’n ein syfrdanu pan fyddwn yn gwylio Newyddion 6, pob tswnami a daeargryn a rhyfeloedd cartref sy’n tynnu gwaed yr holl ddynolryw, mae pob un o’r rhain yn cael amser caled yn cystadlu gydag alcohol fel arf o ddistryw. Drwy drugaredd, nid oes gan Brydain un o’r trychinebau uchod i ymgodymu â nhw ond mae ganddi un o’r problemau alcohol mwyaf dwys yn y byd datblygedig. Gan gofio hyn, mae penderfyniad y Prif Weinidog David Cameron yr wythnos hon, yr union wythnos yr euogfarnwyd Mills, i dynnu’n ôl o ddeddfwriaeth lleiafswm prisiau yn un o ymadawiadau mwyaf pobl Prydain er budd elw preifat mewn hanes gwleidyddol modern. Mae gwaith ymchwil a adolygwyd gan gyfoedion ac ar sail tystiolaeth wedi dangos yn glir mewn nifer o achosion bod lefel anaf, salwch a marwolaethau cynamserol wedi gostwng gyda chynnydd bychan iawn mewn lleiafswm prisio, gan ddangos bod yfwyr bregus, tlawd sy’n barod yn yfed gormod, yn methu ag yfed lefel y diodydd yr oedden nhw’n gallu ei wneud ynghynt. Mae’r amrywiol ffug-rhyddewyllyswyr sydd wedi ymddangos dros y broblem hon yn pwysleisio’n barhaus nad oes gan y llywodraeth hawl i ddwyn oddi wrth y gweithiwr yr ychydig bleser sydd ganddo mewn bywyd h.y. diod rad ac na ddylai yfwyr synhwyrol da gael eu cosbi oherwydd llond llaw o afalau drwg. Yn gyntaf, fel sylwedd dibynnol sy’n niweidio’n ofnadwy ffabrig cymdeithasol y genedl, sy’n gysylltiedig â miliwn o ymosodiadau yn y DU bob blwyddyn ac yn costio rhyw £12 biliwn y flwyddyn i’r trethdalwr, dylai alcohol yn bendant fod yn bwnc prisio llym, mae pob mesur arall i gyfyngu ar ei yfed wedi methu, gan gynnwys ceisiadau chwerthinllyd i gynnwys y diwydiant mewn ‘hunan-reoli’. Yn ail, os na fydd gan yfwyr sy’n teimlo eu bod yn cael eu herlyn gan fygythiad peint o gwrw neu lasiad o win ychydig yn fwy costus, broblemau gydag alcohol, beth yw’r broblem go iawn? Pris bychan yw ychydig geiniogau ar bris diod i dalu am ostwng y nifer o farwolaethau a achosir gan yfed. Mae’r gwrthwynebiadau, yn ddiamheuol, yn dod yn bennaf o’r diwydiant alcohol ei hun a gan lobïwyr anweledig sy’n gallu mynd at y Prif Weinidog a gweddill y dosbarth gwleidyddol (tro pedol yr wythnos hon ar becynnu plaen i sigarennau ac mae presenoldeb cyfleus y lobïwr tybaco Lynton Crosby yng nghylch cyfrin y Prif Weinidog yn rhoi cliw i ni ar sut mae gweddill polisi ‘iechyd’ y llywodraeth yn gweithio). Efallai ei bod yn ormod i obeithio bod ein llywodraeth, sy’n drwm yng nghôl diwydiannau preifat, yn mynd i gymryd safiad dewr amhoblogaidd ac angenrheidiol ar alcohol a dangos arweinyddiaeth go iawn. Mae’n bosibl bod gêm gwleidyddiaeth fodern wedi bod unwaith yn ymwneud â phenderfyniadau angenrheidiol, llym (mae Cameron ac Osborne yn ymddangos yn fedrus ar wneud hyn pan mae’n dod i dorri gwariant y wladwriaeth) ond nawr mae’n llawer mwy o ymdrechu am boblogrwydd ar draul polisi. Bob tro y mae damwain car, achos o drywanu, mygio neu dreisio, neu bob tro mae teulu o dri’n cael eu llofruddio yn eu gwelyau gan ddyn ifanc sy’n dioddef gan salwch alcoholiaeth a digon o alcohol rhad i’w fwydo, meddyliwch am y Prif Weinidog. Meddyliwch amdano ac am ddosbarth gwleidyddol hollol arwynebol, ffraeth ac anargyhoeddiadol, yn eiddo busnesau mawr lle mae eu hunig ddiddordeb yw preifateiddio elw eu harfau distryw mawr a chymdeithasoli costau i’r gweddill ohonom.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Hidden Accomplice

A hidden accomplice Following the death in prison of Myra Hindley the Moors Murderer, the veteran Labour politician Tony Benn was asked on BBC's Question Time by an audience member whether it would have been better simply to execute her instead of paying for her to languish in jail for decades. Benn responded that the one crime that is probably beyond the ability of any human to forgive is the murder of a child, but that the greatest mistake for a nation that has to endure the pain of such events is to give in to blind hatred. Far better, he said, to forget about Hindley and allow her life to have been one of irrelevance. These are undoubtedly wise words, timely, as once again we encounter the horror of an adult purposefully and deliberate killing a child for their own sexual gratification. It is doubtful that anyone could ever forgive this crime and few will be able to forget it either. Today the murderer of April Jones, Mark Bridger, will begin what will probably be the rest of a lifetime behind bars, just a brief review of the court case indicates that the police were dealing with a calculating and dangerous man, but another aspect of the case was continually mentioned throughout the trial and was scarcely raised as a contributory factor, and that was Bridger's drinking. Bridger was heavily dependent on alcohol and was consuming large quantities of beer, cider and wine at the time of the killing, the Guardian background feature on Bridger's Walter Mitty fantasy world mentioned drinking twice, but at no point (probably in the interests of securing a prosecution for murder) has anyone from the CPS or the media explored whether alcohol has had some part to play in this most horrific of crimes. The purpose of this article is not to provide this wicked and monstrous man with any form of mitigation, drunk or sober, there is no mistaking this act as a premeditated deed. However, if the relationship between alcohol and violence against children were isolated to this case we might reasonably call it an aberration, but evidence from the NSPCC tends to suggest that it is a contributory factor in most cases of sexual or physical violence against children. The World Health Organisation states that: "In London, parental substance abuse was a cause of concern in 52 per cent of families on the Child Protection Register, with alcohol as the principal substance used." This report refers to cases that range from neglected children in chaotic homes to a minority of others who are in direct physical harm. In the past few months murder trials have revealed that alcohol has been a contributory factor in the Philpott family murder and the horrific killing of schoolgirl Tia Sharp by her grandmother's boyfriend. In both the April Jones and Tia Sharp cases the media have been quick to highlight the downloading of child porn images as a main contributory factor, which it undoubtedly is. There is less desire to examine how the most accesible and widespread drug in the country affects the judgement of people who go on to commit horrific acts. Put simply, there seems to be no desire to question whether heavy drinking enables people to act out harmful and violent acts that may well have remained suppressed otherwise. The evidence would tend to suggest that alcohol has been a facilitating substance in these crimes and in other cases. Drunkenness in the home can often be the means by which dangerous people, friends of the family or acquaintances from the pub, are first brought into contact with children as judgement is impaired and the needs of the young take a back seat to the priorities of the drinker. Alcohol is a powerful, dangerous and addictive drug that cuts a bloody swathe through our communities year on year, and it is a drug that Britain's moral coward-in-chief David Cameron has backtracked on introducing minimum pricing over. Perhaps if we as a society were to have an open and honest debate about how much and how often this drug really harms our children, we might be less fond of trotting out pseudo-libertarian arguments about 'the drinker's right to choose', and be more concerned with the rights of children to happy, safe childhoods.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

New start, new challenge

Carol Hardy believes if her local Minister hadn’t the confidence to talk about and support her battle with alcoholism, her life would have likely taken a very different course. Her personal experience of the importance of being able to turn to religious leaders in the community, and for them in turn to feel they have the ability to talk about addiction, form part of Carol’s main aims as she takes up a new post with Living Room Cardiff. There has been a recent increase in individuals with addiction problems approaching the clergy and other church leaders for help and this is often the first time they have asked for help from anyone (NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, 2007). However, there is a significant knowledge and skills gap among clergy in regard to dealing effectively with individuals who have alcohol, drug and other addiction problems. Some clergy lack confidence and are not personally equipped to help individuals deal with deeply personal and disturbing problems. Carol, said, “Personally, I was fortunate. My Minister had a background in addiction issues. However, I know this was and is very much a rarity. The natural tendency amongst our religious leaders is to avoid getting involved in people’s personal business, but much of this is down to a simple lack of experience and confidence in dealing with addiction issues. “Part of my first duties will be to make contact will all denominations in Wales to pilot a course on how to improve skills in discussing addiction. I am looking for any support to kick-start the pilot, but the aim is to create a framework of courses and a handbook, the first of its kind to be published in the Welsh language. “As addiction problems increase, I want to ensure clergy understand the issues involved and are ready and able to respond appropriately in a timely manner.” ENDS For further information, please contact Rhodri Ellis Owen, Cambrensis Communications on 029 20 2570785 or Notes to editor: Stafell Fyw Caerdydd/Living Room Cardiff, the community-based recovery centre for Cardiff and South Wales, is setting up workshops to upskill and increase the confidence of clergy and other church leaders throughout Wales, in how to respond more effectively with those addicted to alcohol and drugs (prescribed or illicit), or other harmful behaviours, within their congregations and in their surrounding communities.