We Can Help Scots to Recover From Drug Addiction by Working Together

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Annemarie Ward is Chief Executive Officer of Favor UK, a charity which exists to save and improve the lives of people affected by alcohol and other drugs and encourage a more balanced investment into treatment services. In that previous life Annemarie had addictions to various substances, In August 2020 Annemarie celebrated 23 years of complete abstinence from all mind and mood altering substances.

Last week, Scotland’s spending watchdog Audit Scotland concluded there was a “lack of transparency” in how money is spent on drug and alcohol services.

In the wake of figures last year which showed that 1,339 people died from drug-related deaths in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon pledged £250 million during this parliamentary term to tackle the issue.

But Auditor General Stephen Boyle said last week that “it’s still hard to see what impact policy is having on people living in the most deprived areas, where long-standing inequalities remain.”

I hate to say I told you so but this is exactly what organisations like Favor UK were warning about last year when the money was announced. We warned then that the money would disappear into the current failing system, with predictable results.

Sadly, Mr Boyle is completely right.  

People in Scotland are continuing to die every day – this issue is too important to become another proxy constitutional battle between the UK and Scottish Governments.

It isn’t just money that is required – what we need, as we said last summer when the latest shocking drug death figures were announced, is a complete culture change at the heart of the way society supports those with alcohol & other drug addictions.

That requires a clean sweep of leadership where we change the culture from one of addiction to one of recovery. In Scotland, we still have a system that is wedded to managing, or attempting to manage, the symptoms of addiction with indefinite prescriptions to drugs. It doesn’t try to help relieve people of substance dependency. And we don’t have a workforce with the skills to help people with addictions do that.

Of course there is a place for medical support for people with addictions. But we don’t then use that as a bridge to help people into recovery and rehabilitation.

Until we spend money on this, then organisations like Audit Scotland will continue to express puzzlement over what extra funding is doing.

People in Scotland are continuing to die every day – this issue is too important to become another proxy constitutional battle between the UK and Scottish Governments.

So it is time for the Scottish Government to learn from elsewhere in the UK where more support for rehabilitation and recovery – and more involvement from the recovery community – is working. In England, for example, there are four times fewer deaths from drugs.

“I had never seen anyone get into rehab – you either went to prison or died. I was in and out of prison most of my life, committing crimes and taking drugs. In the end I had had enough” - Stephen Brown, former drug user

The UK Government’s Drugs Minister Kit Malthouse has recently been talking up his £60m Project Adder plan. Rolled out in some of the worst affected areas in England and Wales such as Blackpool, Hastings, Middlesborough, and Swansea, the project brings police and other agencies together to ensure more people get effective treatment, and enhanced treatment and recovery, including housing and employment support.

It also seeks to improve communication between treatment providers, courts, prisons and hospitals.

So far, the Government claims that 600 organised crime groups have been disrupted and more than 13,000 people have been supported with drug treatment interventions.

One of those involved is Stephen Brown from Blackpool. Steven was in and out of prison, coping with an addiction until his late 30s. Today, he is part of the Project Adder Lived Experience team in Blackpool who use their own backgrounds to help others rebuild their futures.

He told the local Blackpool Gazette: “I grew up in Queenstown flats and from 17 years old I was in and out of prison. I had never seen anyone get into rehab – you either went to prison or died. I was in and out of prison most of my life, committing crimes and taking drugs. In the end I had had enough. I managed to get clean over five years ago and turned my life around which led me to getting a job with Project ADDER. So I’m out there as part of the Lived Experience team helping other people, and can identify with them and tell them I’ve been where they’ve been and can try and help them in what they want, which is their recovery.”

The UK Government says it would be keen to trial a Project ADDER pilot in Scotland. We know it works. Given that, as Audit Scotland says, we don’t know whether the extra support in Scotland is having any impact, I hope the Scottish Government agrees. People across Scotland need support right now.

Favor UK will soon be launching a 5 point campaign ahead of the Scottish local government elections.

1.     We have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2.     We have the right to health and recovery within the criminal justice system

3.     We have the right to be given clear, objective and up to date information on all evidence-based pathways to harm reduction and recovery.

4.     We have the right to investment in the highest standards of effective, and specialist care, delivered by a fully trained and competent workforce.

5.     We have a right to meaningful political representation that reflects our needs.

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