Fifteen years ago José Pereira was a rich and powerful man – until the world came crashing around his ears in a haze of alcohol and cocaine.
But thanks to a rehabilitation charity in his native Portugal, he was able to shed his addiction, and gain a bursary to become a counsellor to help others.
Now he has taken on the role of clinical manager at Focus 12 in Bury St Edmunds – one of two major appointments which will allows its founder Chip Somers to concentrate on lobbying the Government, approaching organisations for funds and working with its patrons including Russell Brand, Davina McCall and Boy George, to promote the charity.
“I was national director of fisheries in Mozambique, working with big fishing companies from the Soviet Union. It was a very powerful position. I’d also played roller hockey for my country,” said José.
“Then I lost it all in alcohol and cocaine. Being in a powerful position with a lot of money, it brought everything to an end.
“I lost everything, my family, my business, my friends. I was on my own. My sister helped my get into a programme in Portugal. That saved my life.”
His experience now drives him to continue and improve on the good work Focus 12 has been achieving over the years with its abstinence programme.
The charity was set up in 1997 and just five years ago it was treating around 50 clients a year.
But that has dramatically grown to up to 120 clients a year – while at the same time the charity has seen its funding through local authority referrals drastically cut.
“The kind of clients we have has changed,” said new chief executive Andy Yacoub.
“In the past we would have had far more referred to us by local authorities. Now about half are privately paying individuals.
“Sometimes it is their parents, sometimes their spouses, and sometimes it is the client themself who has savings and comes to us.
“About 75 per cent of our clients graduate – that is they complete the programme. And of that 75 per cent around 70 per cent will stay clean.”
That compares to some treatment centres where only a third stay clean.
Now Focus 12 is hoping to build further on its success. Funding from its most famous client Russell Brand has allowed it to develop its one year 16 bed resettlement programme.
“It is about making sure they go back to somewhere physically clean and right for somebody in recovery, somewhere safe, removed from the bad influences of their previous life,” said Andy who has previously held roles with the Met Police and Suffolk County Council before becoming a Focus 12 Trustee in 2009.
One of the areas that the charity wishes to pursue is working with employers.
“If they have a good employee who then becomes addicted to drink or drugs, that person is potentially still the same employee as before. We can help them and they would have to spend money anyway on recruiting someone else and putting them through employee training,” said Andy.
José has already worked at several larger clinics including The Priory and Clouds House in Wiltshire. He estimates he has helped thousands of people who had been addicted to substances.
Meanwhile he says there is clear evidence that the economic downturn has led to an increase in addiction.
“We have an illness which infects our clients. They are suffering from a disease called addiction.
“It is not only a chemical dependency. Our clients may be suffering from different mental health problems such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, anxiety, post traumatic stress, or a personality disorder,” he said.
The charity seeks to address the chemical dependency before then helping to address the other underlying issues in people’s lives whether that be by some other form of medication or other forms of help.
Focus 12 has been placed in the top ten rehabilitation charities for its success – and remains amongst the cheapest.
Despite this Andy said cuts to funding meant that changes to its structure was essential for the charity’s survival.
The charity operates with a team of 11 staff split between admin and clinical workers, while it also has a team of six volunteers and is looking for more.
While funds have been cut and addiction has risen, the ethos of abstinence that runs through the heart of Focus 12 remains the same.
“Every year we have a family reunion,” said Andy. “People tend to come for the first three years then stop. They come back to celebrate the fact they are still abstinent, to say thank you and to meet others that have gone through the process.
“We held it at King Edward VI School for the first time this year and the head Geoff Barton was in tears.
“These are human beings that have found their way back – and José is a pure example of that.”