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Hope is fading fast for drugs aid unit

By Claire McNeilly

A substance abuse centre in one of Ulster's main drugs trouble spots is in danger of closure due to lack of funding.

The Hope Centre Ballymena, in Co Antrim - which helps drug addicts, alcoholics and their families - admitted today that it was in dire straights.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, centre manager, Anne Henry, whose own job - and those of several other key staff - hangs in the balance, appealed for crucial aid.

"We are in desperate need of additional funding in order to sustain the vital services currently being offered," she said.

"The Hope Centre is a paramount and indispensable service to the drug and alcohol misusers and their families within Ballymena and the surrounding areas.

"But in order to continue this work we require immediate assistance with the ongoing battle to maintain and improve our unique services."

Of those who use the services, 42% have alcohol-related problems and 36% are heroin addicts.

The remainder are addicted to prescription medicine, cannabis, amphetamines and other substances.

News of the centre's possible closure has sent shock waves through the local community and beyond.

It also follows a special investigation by this newspaper recently, which outlined the growing problem of cocaine in Northern Ireland.

Dr Terry Magowan, one of the few practitioners in Northern Ireland who prescribes Methadone to heroin addicts, said the Hope Centre played a vital role.

"It would be an awful shame for addicts, their families and those who help care for them, if the centre had to close," he said.

"It is providing an excellent service.

"Heroin is a huge problem in Ballymena and addicts rely very heavily on the voluntary sector for support."

SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan said it was ironic that a centre which has done so much to help those on society's margins should find itself struggling.

"The Hope Centre does a very valuable job, and one that no other agency in the area does, " he said.

"It has developed a very high level of expertise in a very difficult area.

"I have nothing but admiration and respect for its achievements.

"The drugs problem is very real. It has to be tackled on many fronts, and that includes the rehabilitation of those who have been through substance abuse."

The facility, which receives Lottery Funding, also relies on various bodies, including Northern Ireland Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team, to help supplement salary costs. That funding, however, runs out on Friday.

Founded in 2000, by the parents of drug users, the Hope Centre treats up to 40 people daily and services statutory, community and voluntary organisations throughout the Northern Board areas.

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