Drug charity collapses and leaders refuse to act

By Anna Sheinman, September 6, 2012

Drugsline, the only charity working directly with drug and alcohol addicts in the Jewish community, has been forced to close due to acute financial difficulties.

The organisation’s demise has been met with indifference from the Jewish Leadership Council. A spokesman said it had “nothing to add”.

Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, Drugsline’s executive director since it began its work 23 years ago, said: “I am devastated. The volunteers are calling in, bereft. The employees have lost their jobs. And I have lost my brainchild, an organisation which I feel very passionately about.”

Based in Ilford, Essex, the Chabad-inspired charity ran a schools education and outreach programme which in the last academic year ran workshops for over 28,000 students at more than 90 schools and colleges.

It also maintained two drop-in centres and a crisis and support hotline for drug abusers and their friends and families, and played a key role in getting addicts into rehabilitation.

“There are people walking around today who would not be here if it were not for Drugsline,” said Rabbi Sufrin, who was made an MBE in 2009 for his work with the charity.

Explaining the closure, he said: “ Our ongoing difficulties in securing sufficient government grants, together with the reduction in support from benefactors’ donations, due to the economic recession, has left the management group no choice but to close”.

Two years ago the charity had 10 paid employees, but funding problems had cut that number to six by the time operations ceased on Monday. They now redundant and the services of more than 60 volunteers are no longer needed.

Drugsline cost £250,000 a year to run. The charity was unable to find donors to make up the difference when the local NHS Primary Care Trust withdrew funding.

A spokesperson from NHS North East London and the City said: “In December 2009, NHS Redbridge gave formal notice to Drugsline that it would no longer be funding the service as of April 1, 2010.”

Redbridge Council, which has also granted Drugsline £220,000 over the past six years, and continued to fund its counselling service, said it was sorry to hear that the charity was closing.

Laurie Rackind, chief executive of Jewish mental health charity Jami, said: “For those for whom addiction is coupled with mental health issues, Jami will continue to provide the widest range and highest level of mental health services available. But we do not provide the specialist addiction services offered by Drugsline.”

The Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president, Laura Marks, said: “Any reduction in provision for people suffering with drug addiction is a real shame.”

Other communal agencies were less forthcoming. The JLC’s chief executive, Jeremy Newmark, dismissed the suggestion that the community’s umbrella organisation might help save the charity. He rejected the idea that funding could come from the organisation’s vaunted new community chest.

He said: “The community chest has a clear set of priorities that it’s already addressing... it provides funding to balance the budget of causes that aren’t getting funding from elsewhere”.

Maccabi’s Streetwise, a programme to promote the safety and development of young people, refused to comment.
Rabbi Sufrin said he hoped to relaunch Drugsline in the near future, but noted: “It will not just take a lot of money, but a lot of expertise. Lessons must be learned. I have a strong belief in what I’m doing, but I need a lot of help, I really need the community to get behind me.”

Last updated: 4:13pm, September 6 2012