Writing for the Daily Record, Labour Shadow Health Secretary Monica Lennon calls for a fresh approach in reducing the stigma of drug addiction.
Meanwhile, Tory Health spokesman Miles Briggs also has his say and describes the shocking drug death statistics reported on by the Record as “a national scandal”.
Drug crisis should be treated as national priority - Monica Lennon
Liz works in a pharmacy in Lanarkshire. She’s warm and friendly and when she spoke about this young woman, a former heroin addict, it was with fondness and pride.
Liz beamed as she told me this young woman has completed her methadone programme – a treatment that is highly stigmatised. She’s become a mother, has family support and is happy.
Love alone isn’t enough to prevent substance misuse or help people recover from addiction but the absence of love, empathy and structured support makes it tougher.
By reaching beyond the substance misuse – seeing and treating the whole person and supporting their families – we have so much to gain.
I also recently stumbled into a Facebook debate about a drug user allegedly injecting himself in the middle of a Hamilton street.
Residents were raising legitimate concerns about public safety but others simply wished the “scum” dead.
Scotland has about 56,000 problem drug-users – wishing them dead or locked-up is cruel and ridiculous.
In a recent survey, more than 53 per cent of Scots agreed that people admitted to hospital for alcohol or drugs-related illnesses should pay for it.
We cannot ignore the fear and resentment building in our communities.
That’s why I am making a direct plea to the First Minister to declare Scotland’s drugs and alcohol crisis a public health emergency.
We need strong leadership and a coherent plan. At Holyrood, I have been vocal about stigma.
It reduces people who misuse drugs or alcohol to something you’d scrape off your shoe. “Junkie”, “scum”, “alky” are firmly planted in our vocabulary.
Yet, addiction is an illness and this makes prevention and treatment a public health issue.
Scotland prides itself on being an inclusive nation but too often addiction is a source of entertainment, from Rab C Nesbitt to Methadone Mick. Mocking illness is far from progressive.
With drugs and alcohol harm costing Scotland about £7billion annually, there’s little to laugh about. Not for the trauma-stricken parents and children who have buried their loved ones.
Are they “scumbags” too? This year, more than 1000 Scots are expected to die from a drugs overdose and alcohol deaths will likely be higher than this.
The statistics sometimes raise eyebrows but they always break hearts. In 2015, I left a hospital bed with a death certificate; my own much-loved dad dead after years of alcohol abuse.
To governments, statisticians and headline writers, he’s a number, along with 1234 other alcohol-related deaths in Scotland that year.
I want Scotland to care. Without further delay, the First Minister must declare Scotland’s drug and alcohol misuse crisis a public health emergency and initiate a statutory public inquiry into these deaths and wider social harms.
Vulnerable people and families must get vital support. Auditing local services will show that too often mental health and substance misuse services are fragmented. This needs to change.
On New Year’s Eve, I had to knock on the doors of NHS Lanarkshire to get support for a young man in the grip of alcohol and drug addiction and recently discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt.
The community substance misuse team was so stretched they were reluctant for me – a Member of the Scottish Parliament – to have their phone number.
How can we reduce the harms caused by drugs and alcohol if every attempt by vulnerable people and their families to get help is a battle?
The ongoing criticism and shaming of methadone programmes needs to stop.
It’s unsupported by facts.
In contrast, evidence shows that a high proportion of people on methadone are on sub-optimal doses, meaning that they are more likely to use a combination of drugs and are at greater risk of dying from overdose.
This practice goes against clinical guidelines and the Scottish Government should act on this immediately.
Politicians alone can’t get this right.
About 15,000 people died over the duration of the last Scottish Government drug and alcohol strategy.
People with lived experience need to be given more say on the solutions. It’s now over to the First Minister to make this a national priority.
Users need life, not drugs, plan to help end addiction - Miles Briggs
That Scotland has become Europe’s drug death capital is nothing short of a national scandal.
Ten years ago, 455 people died as a direct result of drug overdoses: 455 too many.
Yet today, that figure has more than doubled to 934, two-and-a-half times the rate of the UK as a whole.
Last week, we learnt that in just a year, the amount of heroin being seized by police has doubled, offering clear evidence that our streets are being flooded with illegal Class A drugs.
The human cost is immense – drugs wreck families, destroy lives and are holding back some of our poorest communities.
The financial cost is just as severe: it’s been estimated that drug misuse costs Scotland £3.5billion a year.
This is an emergency and politicians from across the political spectrum must put their heads together to work out what to do.
The scale of the task is enormous. For example, it is estimated 61,500 people in Scotland between the age of 15 and 64 are engaged in problematic use of opiates and/or benzodiazepines in Scotland. That’s increased from the estimated 52,000 in 2007.
The last major Scottish Government strategy plan, unveiled 10 years ago, has failed to deliver.
As the main opposition party at Holyrood, the Scottish Conservatives have set out some positive ideas in the hope they will help a new plan work.
First off, we believe we need a genuine “all-government” plan from the SNP Government to tackle drug addiction – so health and justice portfolios are working in tandem. In a recent policy paper, we set out what we think should then happen.
Our premise is simple: we don’t think users need a drugs plan to help manage their addiction, we think they need a life plan to help them end their addiction.
Take users who are caught with an illegal drug for the first time. Under our plan, we’d offer them the chance to avoid getting a criminal record, on condition they received treatment for getting off drugs and engaging with local services.
We also think there should be a wholesale review of the methadone programme, which is simply not working in getting people drug-free.
We’d also like to see funding being directed towards programmes that support rehabilitation, recovery and abstinence – seeking to get people off drugs outside and in jails.
And it’s time the Government committed to proper targets: to halve the number of drug deaths in five years and to increase the number of problem drug users accessing treatment from 40 per cent to 60 per cent or above.
We need leadership to set our country, our health services, the third sector, and local communities the challenge to help to turn this situation around.
The Daily Record is right to start a national conversation on this issue.
We need a new national approach to tackle this public health emergency. But to do that, all of us – including SNP Ministers – need to understand that this requires radical steps.
Let’s all make this the priority it should be.